The now internationally recognized “World Watch List” calls out the worst 50 countries for persecuting followers of Jesus each year. It should be no surprise that the top spot is held by North Korea, the same as it has been for the last seventeen years. Open Doors, the organization that compiles the list, says,
“Each year, the World Watch List provides a searing glimpse into the 50 places around the world where it costs the most to be a Christian. In some countries, familial and social pressure make it terribly difficult to follow Jesus, while in other places, faith in Christ is threatened by daily risk of violence and physical oppression.”
Israel is barely visible on the World Watch List map of persecution, which marks countries from yellow to red indicating increasing levels of severity and danger.
Zooming into the Middle East, you can just make out a thin, grey strip surrounded by a sea of orange.
As the only democracy with freedom of religion and freedom of speech, Israel is, by and large, a safe place for the disciples of Yeshua. However, this is only in comparison to nations where Christians are regularly experiencing violence and death for their faith.
But it would be wrong to think that there is no cost to following Yeshua in Israel. There certainly is.
Though we are not killed for our faith in Israel, and very rarely physically hurt, opposition through social, political, judicial and economic means puts believers under great pressure.
The religious leaders of Israel are just as threatened by Yeshua today as they were when He walked among them two thousand years ago.
We received a message from believers who have recently opened a “Walk-In House” ministry center in the south of Israel. This is a first-hand account of what persecution in Israel looks like:
“From the first day we felt the tension, which increased every day. This week a group of demonstrators gathered in front of our “ Walk-in House”, summoned by the rabbis.
Our windows were smeared, we were photographed and filmed. The rabbis screamed, “You are Amalek! Haman! And they must be killed!” We were called the representative of satan… and much more. We were provoked and the name of Jesus was blasphemed. The rabbis incited the people against us. One rabbi started a slander campaign. Yesterday, someone from an anti-missionary organization stood in front of the door, trying to intimidate us the whole time.
The police were called by bystanders who were supporting us. The police officers told us that we had to follow them to the police station to write a statement. They escorted us to their police car. We have been four times at the police station this week, and every time we had to tell the whole story to a different police officer. This coming Sunday we will have a meeting with the head officer of the police station.
Some shop owners went to the mayor to asked him to stop this ‘’stupid’’ behaviour of those rabbis, but they told them that it’s now a case between the rabbinate of Dimona and the police.”
Sadly, these believers are not the only ones to experience this kind of harassment. The situation today is far better than it has been in previous decades, but believers especially in southern cities have experienced considerable trouble. I know of one couple who are surrounded by crowds of Orthodox Jews every week when they walk to their Messianic congregation. They are shouted at, cursed and spat upon. Their infant daughter was called a rat by a shrieking protester, yelling into her buggy. There have been break ins and vandalism, and the judicial system will rarely decide in favor of the Messianic Jews, who tend to come out of the ordeal with huge bills to pay and no compensation or redress.
There are Israeli believers who have been fired from their jobs, Messianic businesses shut down, and on extremely rare occasions, there have been firebombs thrown into buildings. I know a man who was thrown down stone stairs for talking about Yeshua, and of course if an Orthodox Jew comes to faith they will more than likely be cut off completely from their family and ostracized from their community. A funeral is held for them, and they are considered dead.
Against this reality it is all the more remarkable that the body of Messiah just continues to grow and grow in Israel, and more and more people are coming out in support of believers.
Messianic believers have hit the mainstream media several times in the last couple of years, with varying degrees of acceptance. News channels have done media segments about our faith, before being unceremoniously pulled due to threats from religious leaders. The other year we were approached by the largest news channel in Israel who produced a short series about Messianic Jews with Erez and Eitan. When these videos and adjoining articles were published weekly, a huge uproar came about from the ‘anti-missionaries’, and eventually the news company crumbled to the pressure and removed the videos. There have been a number of very gifted Messianic singers on national talent spotting television shows being quite open about their faith, and recently a Messianic wedding was covered on an Israeli website, including details about what the couple believed. The article explained in a positive way how their wedding ceremony combined elements of a traditional Jewish wedding along with their faith in Yeshua. Generally speaking, society is still quite hostile to the idea that a Jew can believe in Yeshua, but the news is spreading more and more all the time, that whether they are accepted or not, tens of thousands of Israeli Jews do, in fact, follow Yeshua as their Messiah.
The brother serving in the south added in his report,
“All the negative attention and riots cause people to come and ask questions and they are so brave to come in and show their solidarity towards us! The wall painting with the text from Psalm 42:1 (“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God”), attracts the attention of many, both friends and foes!
We would like to ask you to struggle with us in praying for a breakthrough. It is a battle of lies and truth, darkness and light. The love of God overcomes the darkness! Please pray that the Kingdom of God will become visible here in south Israel. May all of us be able to stand firm in His victorious power! Praise the Lord for He is good, His goodness endures forever!
”Righteousness lifts up a nation, but sin is a disgrace in any society”. (Proverbs 14:34)
Righteousness… that is we want to see in our society.”
Amen to that.
Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash