For the first time, an Israeli Messianic TV channel has started to broadcast on Israeli cable TV in Hebrew, but Israel’s communication minister is already threatening to close it.
“We will never let a missionary TV channel broadcast in Israel at any time or in any way,” Dudi Amsalem said.
However, when Amsalem posted this on Twitter, most of the people who commented poked fun at him, asking if he will also shut down all the religious Jewish TV channels that actively try to convince people to become observant.
The Messianic channel, Shelanu, has a seven-year contract with the Israeli cable company Hot. Shelanu passed all inspections of the Israel Cable and Satellite Bureau, which is an independent institution with authority to confirm or deny channels. According to Arutz Sheva, Amsalem turned to the head of the bureau, Asher Biton, asking him to investigate how this could happen.
“No channel can operate against its license – if this channel indeed is a missionary channel it will be removed immediately,” Amsalem said.
Biton told Haaretz that he was not aware that the new channel intended to convey missionary content. He said that they will close the channel if these allegations are true.
“Our rules are that religious content is allowed, but we don’t allow content that has the potential of influencing the viewers unfairly, especially programs for young people,” he said.
The anti-missionary organization Yad l’Achim posted a Facebook post praising Amsalem’s statement.
“We have followed the missionaries’ intentions to open a cable channel in Israel for three months, and we have gathered evidence that it is indeed a channel that will try to convert Jews to Christianity. We have presented our evidence to everyone involved,” the organization said.
The Israel Cable and Satellite Bureau disagreed.
“We have always allowed a pluralism in what we allow to be aired, and we allow religious content of all religions, as part of freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” it said in a statement.
Michael Decker, an Israeli lawyer, spoke to KNI about the issue.
“The channel will not close. They might close it temporarily because of religious pressure, but then the courts will force them to reopen it,” he explained. “They have no case. Hot already airs several religious TV channels, including Christian ones. Channels like Daystar and METV have all aired on Israeli TV for many years. The only difference is that Shelanu is the first Messianic channel in Hebrew, managed by local believers. It annoys them, but it’s not a legal case against it. Amsalem has to say those things to appease his voters, but after those harsh words he also adds that he will close the channel ‘if they are indeed violating the law’ – and they are not.”
The channel’s contract is between Hot and God TV, but instead of airing its own content, God TV handed it over to the local Messianic body in Israel to air content in Hebrew. Shelanu is governed by a board with representatives from several Messianic ministries and congregations.
“Shelanu translates to ‘ours’ in Hebrew. We want every person in Israel to know, not a foreign Messiah, but a Jewish one! His name is Yeshua, and he has not forgotten his people,” God TV wrote on its website.
God TV quoted the Shelanu TV station manager who said, “We are committed to working our hardest to make sure that the channel will continue to air life-changing content at the highest quality, 24/7. The next challenge will not only be to air content, but to produce it. We received the platform of Hot as a gift from God TV, but now it is our obligation as believers to produce relevant and dynamic content that will grab the attention of the Israeli people and open their eyes to the truth of their Messiah, Yeshua.”
The same TV station manager also spoke to KNI. When we asked about the remarks of the minister, he said he was not worried.
“There is no reason the government will take us down. We are not breaking any laws. The law prohibits us from airing content that dismisses other faiths and other religions, and we don’t do that,” he said. “Our channel is only positive. We want to show people who Yeshua is, that he is shelanu – ours.”
Aviram Eldar, the head of the internet branch of Shelanu, agrees.
“It’s all about the positive, nothing negative. We have a right to present our faith in Yeshua as an Israeli, not a gentile. We even double checked this,” Eldar said. “It surprised some people in our board that the licensing of the channel went so smoothly. One even asked the regulator. ‘Are you sure? You know we will convey material in Hebrew about Yeshua, right?’ No problem whatsoever.”
Eldar is the manager of yeshuachai.tv, which has broadcast Messianic content in Hebrew on a virtual online TV channel for several years. They merged with Shelanu and are now operating as the internet branch of the channel. They will complete the rebranding of the website by the end of May.
“We hope Shelanu will serve as a tool for the body of the Messiah in Israel. We invite any ministry or congregation with good material to create content for our channel,” he said. “As for now, about half of what we air is in Hebrew, and the rest is in English with Hebrew subtitles. Our goal is to air 100 percent Hebrew content 24/7.”
Reaction to Amsalem’s statement has been mixed among local Messianic Jews. One person said, “There is apparently no freedom of religion in our country.” Another asked, “Why do Messianic Jews still vote for Netanyahu when he puts people like this in the government?” Someone else remarked, “We should go out to demonstrate against this.”
Another observed, “They are just helping us. This is amazing free publicity for the channel.”
Similar noise was made in 2006 when Daystar started to air on satellite and cable TV in Israel. The cable company Hot took down the channel because of pressure from the religious community, and possibly because of the religious minister of communications. The case went to court, and the judge ordered Hot to reinstate the channel, as they had no legal right to take it down.
It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens again this time.