In a landmark ruling, Israeli regulatory authorities announced last week that they are shutting down an evangelical Christian television station for not disclosing in its licence application that its true agenda was missionising Jews.
The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council notified Hot, the Israeli cable television provider, that its new Hebrew-language channel would be taken off the air within the next seven days.
Shelanu, a new channel set up by God TV — one of the largest Christian broadcasting networks in the world — in partnership with the Israeli Messianic community, had been broadcasting on cable television since the end of April. It is very rare for the council to take a channel off the air, and it is the first time a Christian channel broadcast in Israel is being shut down.
God TV was told by the council that it was welcome to submit a new licence application that provided a more honest depiction of the nature of its programming. Proselytizing, in certain circumstances, can be against the law in Israel.
Ron Cantor, God TV’s representative in Israel, said that despite the decision, Shelanu was not giving up and planned to request that Hot resubmit an application for a license on its behalf so that it could resume broadcasting in Israel.
Council chairman Asher Biton wrote in a letter notifying Hot of his decision that had he known that the target audience of the new channel was the Jewish community in Israel, he would not have approved the application as quickly and would have first consulted with all the council members.
“A channel that wishes to spread the gospel of Jesus among the Jewish nation sitting in Israel had never been broadcast on Hot, and the heads of the channel knew that, as was clarified in the hearing we held,” he wrote. Biton noted that Christian programming aimed at Jews is a “complicated and sensitive matter” and, therefore, the broadcasters should have been more upfront about the nature of the new channel.
Biton already notified Hot a few weeks after Shelanu (Hebrew for “ours,” as in “Jesus is all of ours”) began broadcasting that he was considering suspending the license, subject to a hearing. The announcement came after a fundraising video surfaced in which God TV CEO Ward Simpson said: “God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people.”
Overnight, the video message that had caused the storm was taken down and God TV issued a clarification: The network had no intention of trying to convert Jews to Christianity, Simpson said in a new video message; it merely wanted them to accept Jesus as their messiah.
In his letter, Biton notes that in its application for a licence for the new channel, Hot said that the target audience was the Christian community in Israel, when in fact it was Jews. Even after Hot was put on notice, the letter says, the channel continued to broadcast programmes about Christianity aimed specifically at Jews.
“Therefore, whether it was a violation of the obligation for fairness, a deliberate cover-up or a decision to change the nature of programming after the license was approved, the channel should not be allowed to continue broadcasting based on the license it was given,” Biton wrote.
It is not necessarily against the law to broadcast Christian programmes to a Jewish audience in Israel, he noted in his letter. It is, however, against the law to proselytize to individuals under age 18 without the consent of their parents.
Had he been aware of the true nature of the channel, wrote Biton, he would have tried to establish whether Shelanu’s programming was targeting children.
In considering a new application for the Christian channel, the council chairman wrote, he would weigh the benefits of free speech against any possible harm to religious sensibilities in Israel.
In an e-mail responding to a request for comment on the matter, Cantor, God TV’s Israel representative, wrote that the decision came “because Bitan has received tremendous pressure from a small group of people. The average Israeli is not threatened by our channel. I am confident that the State of Israel, which upholds values of democracy, such as freedom of speech and religion, will, in the end, do the right thing.”
He said God TV was “disappointed” by the regulator’s decision, insisting it was taken without any grounds. “It is not true that we broke our agreement,” he wrote. “Our licence, granted by the state of Israel, says in Hebrew that our target audience is the audience of Israeli viewers. There is no stipulation whatsoever that we must target Christians. I have read the license over and over and it is very clear.”
Shelanu is not the first Christian channel to broadcast in Israel. Other examples include Daystar and Middle East Television. It is the first, however, to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.
God TV signed a seven-year contract with Hot to host the channel. More than 700 000 Israeli households subscribe to Hot, which controls nearly 50%of the multichannel market in the country.