Israeli law allows refusal of entry to Israel due to missionary activity

A statue of first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion seen at the departure hall of Ben Gurion International Airport. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Ministry of Tourism announced that 3.6 million tourists entered Israel in 2017. Border control officers working for the Ministry of Interior (in Hebrew, Misrad HaPnim) at Ben Gurion airport or other border crossings must approve entry and stamp the passport of every incoming visitor. However, each year border control officers refuse entry to many potential visitors.

In 2016 Israeli authorities refused entry to 16,534 visitors. While this number may seem high, the number of refused visitors is less than 0.5% of the total amount trying to enter the country. Israel, as any sovereign nation in the world, has the right to defend its borders and deny any foreign national entry into its territory. At the same time, the authority to deny foreign nationals entry to the country is sometimes misused in order to prevent Messianic Jews or Christians from entering Israel. It is important to stress that Israeli passport holders returning to the country may not be refused entry to Israel, their home country.

Common Reasons a Foreign Citizen Is Denied Entry to Israel

The most common reason people are refused entrance to Israel is due to concerns of illegal immigration. Visitors who enter Israel as tourists, but stay in the country and work without a work visa. In the past few years 90% of foreign citizens refused entry to Israel due to suspicion of illegal immigration are from Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, and other former Soviet Union countries. Other reasons for denial of entry are security concerns, if the visitors are suspected of involvement in criminal activity, or if there is suspicion that the visitor is a member of an organization that supports the BDS movement against Israel.

Common Reasons Messianic Jews and Christians Are Denied Entry to Israel

Israeli border control officers have been known to deny entry to Christian and Messianic Jewish leaders who they suspect of missionary activity. According to a legal procedure published by the Ministry of Interior on July 20, 2017, potential visitors to Israel may be denied entry on the “suspicion of missionary activity.” This procedure is a slippery slope, as immigration officers at border control will likely have a broad interpretation of the term “missionary activity.”

Israeli law forbids an adult to coerce a minor to convert to another religion and to give money (or the equivalent of money) to a person to change their religion.  As a Jewish and democratic state, freedom of speech and religion are fundamental rights defended by the law and the courts, and Israel should view favorably people who share religious ideas. However, border control officers may not take this into consideration when making a decision to deny entry to a person based on suspicion of “missionary activity.”  

Visitors who tell border control officers that they are on a “mission’s trip” or who are found carrying evangelistic material in their belongings may be questioned and subsequently denied entry. Also various Orthodox Jewish anti-missionary organizations sometimes inform the Ministry of Interior about individuals they request be denied entry to Israel. In the past foreign citizens already in Israel participating in an evangelistic campaign were detained by immigration police and deported from Israel. The legal reason for the deportation is the alleged “unlawful use” of a tourist visa.

Appealing a Decision to Deny Entrance to Israel

The law of entrance to Israel authorizes border control clerks to decide whether to allow or deny entry of a potential visitor. At the same time, any administrative decision made by state agents is subject to the rule of law, therefore the decision must be reasonable and free of prejudice. Thus a border control clerk’s decision can be appealed.

Once a tourist is issued a deportation order, they are held at a detention center at the airport until the return flight. During this time it is possible to meet a lawyer who will urgently request the court to give an injunction order to stop the deportation process. However, judges will not usually overrule decisions by Israeli immigration officers in such cases. Also, there is usually limited time to complete the legal process, since the Israeli immigration police aim to deport the person as fast as possible.

One ramification of denial of entry to Israel by a border control officer is a ten-year ban from returning to Israel.  The only way to avoid this is to appeal the ban and try and have the ban cancelled.

There is a better chance to continue the legal process to challenge the validity to refuse the visitor entry after the person is back in their home country. The deported visitor can hire a lawyer (give power of attorney to a lawyer in Israel) to approach the head of the Border Control Department at the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem in order to try and lift the ban. However, if the appeal is not accepted the lawyer can take the case to court, bringing legal arguments and evidence to support the claim that the refusal of entry was a mistake and has no legal justification.

Be Aware of Legal Procedure for Denial of Entry to Israel

As you have read in the statistics above, it is uncommon for a foreign visitor to be denied entry into Israel and even more rare that the reason is anything other than concerns over illegal immigration. However, it is important to be informed on this subject, particularly as it relates to alleged missionaries, an accusation which is almost always directed at Messianic Jews or Christians. The border control officers are authorized to refuse the entrance of tourists to Israel, but their authority is subject to judicial review by a court of law.