Christian tour group accused of bringing the coronavirus to Israel

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Korean Air plan turned away from Israel (Photo: screenshot YouTube)

After 18 South Koreans on a Catholic pilgrimage tour of Israel were diagnosed with the coronavirus, the anti-missionary group Yad l’Achim cynically used the panic caused by the diagnosis, calling the group the “Korean missionaries” who tried to infect Israelis with “coronavirus and Christianity.”

The group of 77 visited Israel between Feb. 8 to 15. The infection was discovered after they returned to Korea and it is unknown whether they contracted the virus before, during or after they left Israel. The Ministry of Health has instructed anyone who was in contact with the tour group to go into quarantine for 14 days, including 200 students and teachers in Beersheba. The Palestinian Authority also called on Palestinians who may have come into contact with the South Koreans to self-quarantine.

Israel subsequently turned back a flight from South Korea on Saturday and, from Monday, has banned all foreign citizens who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days. Any Israeli who returns to Israel from China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong-Kong or Macau must submit to a voluntary quarantine at home for 14 days after their return.

But the precautions – and panic – have given rise to racism against Asians and persecution of Messianics and other believers in Israel. The Messianic home for at-risk youth, which was attacked by anti-missionaries last week, hosted an evangelical Korean group six months ago. Nevertheless, a mainstream Israeli newspaper, Israel HaYom, published an article on the “fear that the corona-infected tourists visited a missionary center” along with the footage from six months ago.

The footage was later taken down, but the article was not. The journalist, Chanan Greenwood, explained that the center was not stated as a part of their trip in the official channels because “it was only a short visit.” The article claims to have spoken with a father whose son lives at the center. Sources at the center told KNI that no Korean group has visited in recent months, and clarified that the group from several months ago met with the Messianic Jews who worked there, but not with the at-risk youth.

KNI has learned that lawyers are currently investigating whether it is possible to sue the newspaper for libel and report Greenwood to the journalism ethics board.

Yad l’Achim is an extremist group that hardly represents a majority of Israelis. However, the anti-missionary group and others like them are trying to use racism, fear of “strangers” and the general global panic from the coronavirus as a tool to prevent Israelis from hearing the Gospel. While they understand the difference between Catholic and Evangelical groups, they prey on people’s ignorance to sow more fear.

An Israeli Messianic Jew, who is married to a Korean, reported that racist remarks directed at Asians have escalated since the news broke. On an Israeli morning news show, someone actually said, “those Christians are still killing us.” A source told KNI that on Feb. 23 a group of Asian Americans with U.S. passports were not admitted to their hotel based on their Asian appearance.

Also, a bus with 22 Korean tourists in Israel was not admitted to any tourist site and just drove around for hours in southern Israel, according to Channel 13 on Saturday.

These are not the only cases. A tour guide, who is Asian, told KNI he got a call from a hotel.

“They said, ‘Tomorrow send your tourists to get checked for the virus and then go home,’” he said. “I checked with the authorities but they said there are no instructions to get checked. I negotiated with the hotel management, and they eventually agreed to continue to host them, provided that they all eat their breakfasts in their rooms.”

So far, the only actual confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Israel are two Israelis who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan and were flown back into Israel by the Ministry of Health.