When relatives and friends visit me in Israel, they tend to be surprised and confused about the contradictory realities that Messianic Jews and Christians face here. Certain government agencies attempt to keep Messianics out of the country, and occasionally extreme sects of religious Jews become aggressive and hostile – throwing rocks at our gatherings, for example. On the other hand, daily life seems completely devoid of persecution, and the average Israeli you meet on the street looks favorably on Messianics and could care less about what anybody believes. So what is really going on?
One thing many Messianics have struggled with here is dealing with the Ministry of Interior. This department of the government is charged with immigration and issuing identifying documents, such as passports. They have, on many occasions, caused trouble for Messianic Jews; denying their immigration rights, not allowing spouses of Israeli Jews to immigrate if they are Messianic, even refusing to issue passports, and threatening to expel citizens from the country (which they are probably not legally capable of doing).
The intensity to which this office sometimes acts to prevent Messianic immigration could cause one to believe that the country itself is anti-Messianic. After all if one is denied immigration due to being Messianic, surely the country itself (or at least the government and its branches) must be anti-Messianic overall?
Well, it’s not that simple. Israel is a parliamentary system of government. Each citizen votes for one of many political parties, and then the members of each party chosen form the government. A party only needs 3.25% of the popular vote to get seats in the Knesset (the Parliament). The highest voted party finds allies from the other parties in order to choose the Prime Minister. In exchange for supporting the Prime Minister of one party the smaller parties will request various favors; such as legislation and control of government ministries.
The end result of all of this is that any particular ministry could be run by a party that only received a small percentage of the popular vote. In Israel there are two major Orthodox Jewish parties; Shas and United Torah Judaism. Together, they received just under 11% of the total popular vote in the 2015 election. Shas party requested and received the Interior Ministry in exchange for supporting Likud, the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Shas certainly looks upon Messianic Jews far less favorably than the average Israeli, and the persecution of Messianics by the Ministry of Interior has happened under their watch. The end result is that a crucial aspect of life in Israel – immigration itself – is under the control of a small minority that is generally, and sometimes hostilely, opposed to Messianics. But it is not as if the country overall feels the same way.
In fact, it is not difficult at all to be Messianic in Israel, as a general rule. We can live fairly openly with our faith as long as we are not in the immigration process. We have congregations, fellowship together, play worship music loudly in public, and can freely speak about our faith at work and in our communities. Most people in Israel are not hostile against Messianics at all.
In contrast to most western countries, the secular world is very open to the idea of faith in God and to the Bible. Most secular Israelis have read the Bible and consider it an important pillar of life in Israel. They observe the feasts, go to synagogue occasionally, and even believe in God, pray, and consider spirituality to be a central part of their life.
When the issue of Messianics arise, they are interested to hear about another way of interpreting Biblical faith. So Israel may be the only country where you can spend your morning singing worship songs on the beach with a shirtless pot-smoking hippie who tells you Jesus was a socialist and we should all be gay, then go to apply for your immigration papers and be asked to produce your grandmother’s marriage certificate and swear on the blood of all your relatives that you have never read the New Testament.