Sheera Frenkel and Yonit Farrago in Jerusalem
Israel is using an ultra-Orthodox group to crack down on Messianic Jews — who believe that Jesus is the Messiah — and prevent them from staying in the country, officials have told The Times.
The Messianic Jews have been accused of Christian missionary activities and complain of harassment and intimidation by the state.
An official at the Interior Ministry said that an anti-assimilation group called Yad L’Achim was working with the ministry to prevent Messianic Jews — known as Jews for Jesus — from being allowed to live in Israel, which they consider their spiritual home.
“There is a known history of Yad L’Achim working directly with the ministry. They play a distinct role in the ministry’s decision about citizenry,” the official said.
Jews have an automatic legal right to settle in Israel. Yad L’Achim, which opposes any form of assimilation between Jews and other faiths, said that it was defending the faithful from missionary efforts by what it terms a Christian organisation.
A doctoral student of German-Jewish heritage known as B, said that she had been discriminated against and denied visas after she became involved with the Messianic Jewish movement at an Israeli university. She has been studying in Israel for the past eight years without a visa, making it impossible for her to leave the country.
“I understood that people were intentionally trying to make problems for me from the start,” she said. “There were strange encounters, someone would approach me and tell me who I am and where I lived and try to intimidate me. And another incident where they approached a friend of mine.”
She added: “I have Jewish roots in my family, it was part of the reason I came here. I wanted to connect to my national identity.”
A report to be published today in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz suggests that dozens of such cases of harassment exist. Under Israeli citizenship laws, any person with Jewish grandparents is eligible to move to Israel and qualify for citizenship.
The case of Messianic Jews has raised doubts in the minds of some ultra-Orthodox, who see them as a threat to the Jewish identity.
“The title Messianic Jews is a false statement,” Rabbi Dov Lifschitz, the chairman of Yad L’Achim, said. “There is no such thing. These people are 100 per cent Christians … They are trying to present themselves as a stream in the Jewish nation, so they can stay here and carry out their mission to convert as many Jews as possible into Christianity.”
The US State Department has accused Yad L’Achim of using violence against those who go to Israel seeking to persuade Jews to abandon Judaism. Yad L’Achim accused the State Department of publishing the report without a proper investigation of the claims.