Israel orders evangelical Christian media network God TV to take channel off air

Paul Goldman and Saphora Smith and Associated Press

Israel's regulator has ordered an evangelical Christian broadcaster's new channel off the air, saying it applied to serve a Christian audience but instead has sought to persuade Jews with the gospel of Jesus.

In a statement, the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council said its chairman, Asher Biton, told the Israeli cable provider Hot on Thursday that evangelical broadcaster God TV's channel Shelanu — which means "ours" in Hebrew — must come off the air in seven days.

"An examination of the council's supervision wing shows that the channel does not appeal to the Christian population in Israel, but rather to the Jews," the council said in a written statement. "Therefore, the characterization of the channel submitted for approval does not reflect its broadcasts."

The spokesman for Shelanu, Ron Cantor, Israel regional director for God TV, said it was false that the broadcaster had broken its agreement.

"Our license, granted by the state of Israel, says in Hebrew that our target audience is the audience of Israeli viewers," Cantor said in an emailed statement. "There is no stipulation whatsoever that we must target Christians."

Hot said it was cooperating with the council and would act in accordance with its decision.

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Shelanu, which went on the air in April, is part of God TV, a U.K.-registered evangelical Christian media company that says it broadcasts to about 300 million homes around the globe. Its international broadcasting licenses are held by a Florida-based nonprofit.

Cantor said that Shelanu was part of the evangelical God TV but that it was a Messianic Jewish channel. Messianic Jews follow Jewish law but believe Jesus is the Messiah, a tenet of Christianity. The major Jewish denominations reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism.

"As Israelis, we serve in the army, pay our taxes and expect the same freedoms that other religious groups enjoy," Cantor said.

The controversy has shined a spotlight on the complex relationship between Israel and evangelical Christians, many of whom are staunch supporters of Israel. Some believe Jews must have full control of Jerusalem for the return of the Messiah and the beginning of the end times.

In the U.S., white evangelical Christians are also an important part of President Donald Trump's base. And their vocal commitment to Israel has often been cited as a motivating factor in his full-throated support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Since assuming office, Trump has moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights and drawn up a peace plan for the region that Palestinians have rejected as skewed toward Israel. The Trump administration has said it believes the plan meets both Israel's and the Palestinians' fundamental demands.

Michael Stephens, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said last month that Israel has always been concerned about missionary activity inside its borders.

Proselytizing "goes against what the state is there to do, which is to protect Jewish identity," he said in an interview, adding that there has always been an "uncomfortable marriage" between Israel and evangelical Christian groups that support Israel but can also seek to convert Jews.