What is the Messianic Israeli channel “Shelanu” actually airing?

The launch of the Messianic channel Shelanu on Israeli cable was instantly plunged into a swirl of controversy among religious Jews, Israeli authorities and even some evangelical Christians, which has raised many questions about its intentions and validity.

Was God TV wise to do this? Is the channel protected by freedom of speech? Is this just a channel for local Messianics? Was God TV CEO Ward Simpson’s statement about preaching the Gospel to Jews poorly worded, or did it reveal God TV’s true evangelistic intentions? And how do we make sense of the harsh criticism from other believers including Laurie Cardoza-Moore and HaYovel director Zac Waller?

But no one asked what is perhaps the most important question: What exactly is Shelanu airing? The uproar of criticism has focused on the existence of the channel yet not one word has been said about its content.

KNI spoke with the station manager at Shelanu who explained the current programming.

“We air Christian content in English and Arabic with Hebrew subtitles and Messianic Jewish content in Hebrew. We want a channel that works for both international Christians, Arab Christians and Messianic Jews,” he said. “It includes personal stories, sermons, worship music and more. At the moment we have six hours of content which we air four times around the clock, and we will work on expanding that.”

The manager said the channel is “absolutely not” missionizing, but it does include testimonies and teaching about the faith of Messianic Jews.

“If any program has any kind of direct appeal to the viewer, in any language, I make sure it is taken down,” he said. “Our goal is that people will know what Messianic Judaism is, that people will understand how we view ourselves as Jews and how it relates to Christianity. We do not air content with any kind of coercion. We do not talk down or attack anyone with a different view. We love everyone, and everyone are invited to hear what we have to say, what we believe, and make an informed decision.”

Aviram Eldar, head of yeshuachai.tv, which has broadcasted Messianic content in Hebrew on a virtual online TV channel for several years, told KNI that they don’t always air the same content as Shelanu, but the two are similar.

One of the primary differences is that yeshuachai.tv only broadcasts content in Hebrew, and nothing in English or Arabic. Another difference is that Shelanu goes through a filtering process to adjust to the demands of its license, of which yeshuachai.tv is exempt.

“We have no content that turns directly to the viewer and encourages them to come to faith,” Eldar said. “We air worship music, testimonies of Jews who have come to faith. We often air the documentary Ovi haKora, which is an Israeli documentary produced by Yaakov Damkani that interviews secular Israeli academics and professors about Yeshua and his life. We also have several programs where we express our views on social issues, like depression, marriage, etc. But of course, we do proclaim the Gospel. I don’t want to shy away from that.

“One goal with yeshuachai.tv from the start is to cleanse Yeshua’s name and tell people the truth about him,” Eldar said. “There is so much ignorance and bias among Israelis as to who He really was. We want to tell people the truth. They can of course decide for themselves if they want to believe or not.”

Eldar said the plan is for Yeshuachai.tv to become the internet branch of Shelanu.

This article might be the first that actually reports on the content of Shelanu, yet when news of the channel broke, several Orthodox Jews lined up against it. The accusations were based on a video message by Ward Simpson rather than the channel’s programming. Yad l’Achim, the anti-missionary organization, and blogger Donny Fuchs were the most extreme accusing all pro-Israel Christians of having a hidden agenda and all Jews cooperating with them of being hypocrites. Others were more forgiving, saying that while Christians mean well they fail to understand how offensive this is. They are thankful for Christian friends of Israel, but even alliances need boundaries, this camp maintains.

One exception was controversial Conservative Jewish Rabbi Asher Meza who defended Shelanu, saying that Messianic Judaism is preferred over atheism – a rare stance for a religious Jew.

Criticism raged in the government as well. Communications Minister Dudi Amsalem reacted sharply. And another former Knesset member, Moshe Feiglin – a Libertarian in favor of civil marriage and legalizing marijuana – did not defend free speech in this case. He said that Israel was established to be a Jewish homeland and this channel “undermines the very definition of the State.”

Clearly none of these accusers have actually watched the channel.

Haaretz reported that Shelanu has minuscule viewing figures quoting an industry executive who said that the viewership “trends towards zero,” and that “these channels are completely under the radar.” For example, a few years ago a Christian channel was mistakenly taken down, and it took two weeks until anyone noticed, the article said. As for Shelanu, in Hot’s list of channels, 182 is not even listed.

It is indeed curious how such a small channel in such a small country airing content to such a small audience is able to make so many headlines, especially as it doesn’t even try very hard to proselytize.

And yet, the license is up for emergency review this week to determine whether Shelanu is forced off the air.

“In a few days, Hot cable needs to give answers to the investigation of the Cable and Satellite authority,” the station manager said. “I have gone through the conditions of our license, and I can tell you with 100 percent confidence we are not violating any of the rules. But as you know, it depends a lot on the decision makers.”

Since few if any of the accusers have bothered finding out what the channel is airing, we need to ask ourselves – why is the very existence of a Messianic Jewish channel in Hebrew such a threat to both Orthodox Jews and some Evangelical Christians?

Could it be that the mere existence of Israeli Messianic Jews blurs the line between Jews and Christians too much, making both sides uncomfortable?