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Preaching to the Jews in Israel

2 U.S. Christian broadcasters ready for the Messiah

By Edmund Sanders
Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM If the Messiah descends from the Mount of Olives as the Bible says, America’s two biggest Christian broadcasters are positioned to cover it live after acquisitions of adjacent Jerusalem studios on a hill overlooking the Old City.

Texas-based Daystar Television Network already beams a 24-hour live webcam from its terrace. Not to be outdone, California-based Trinity Broadcasting Network recently bought the building next door.

The studios are part of an aggressive push by U.S. evangelical broadcasters seeking to gain a stronger presence in the holy city. That not only offers boasting rights with American viewers and contributors, but also – and controversially – a platform for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jews in Israel.

In addition to its new multistory building, TBN is negotiating with Israel’s Yes satellite television provider to secure a full-time home for its evangelical Shalom TV channel.

Daystar already airs its English-language programming in Israel with dedicated channels on Yes and cable provider HOT Telecommunications Systems, claiming to be the first Christian evangelical broadcaster to transmit a gospel message to Israeli television 24 hours a day.

“The main thing we want to do is help sponsor what we call Messianic Jews, or Jews that have received Jesus Christ as their Messiah,” said TBN cofounder Paul Crouch. “We want to do some Hebrew language programs to reach out to Jews and entice them to read the word of God and become what we call a completed Jew.”

A touchy subject

Such proselytizing angers Orthodox Jewish groups who say it threatens Israel’s character.

Christian proselytizing is legal, though the government has at times restricted and discouraged the practice; members of the Jewish faith do not seek to convert those of other faiths.

“One of the things I find offensive is that they are bragging about their missionary work,” said Ellen Horowitz, research director at Jewish Israel, which tracks and counteracts Christian missionaries in Israel. “They’re actually very in-your-face about it.”

Horowitz said proselytizing is a touchy subject. “Our people have been through the wringer already with either persecution or assimilation,” she said. “Now people finally get to a Jewish nation and someone pushes a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew at them. A sensitive line is being crossed.”

When Daystar debuted in Israel in 2006, it created such a public uproar that the channel was suspended from the HOT network.

Since then, Christian evangelical groups have steadily expanded their footprint in Jerusalem.

Last spring, evangelist organizer Mike Evans began soliciting donations from U.S. supporters for his $10 million purchase of a building in Jerusalem’s city center for a facility devoted to Christian evangelism.

In July, American missionary Rick Ridings, a nephew of Crouch who operates a walk-in prayer center near Mount Zion, hosted Israeli youths at a gospel music and prayer festival in Tel Aviv.

Strategic partners

Crouch said TBN is promoting Christianity in Israel, where the faith is overshadowed by the struggle between Judaism and Islam. TBN is one of the world’s largest religious broadcasters, with 18 networks in seven languages.

Some Israelis are welcoming American evangelicals as strategic partners, politically and economically.

Crouch said TBN’s biggest obstacle is rival Daystar, which he said tried to block TBN’s Shalom Channel from airing on the Yes satellite. “They raised a stink,” Crouch said. “I guess some of our Christian brothers don’t want the competition.”

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