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Illegal Religious Discrimination

by Baruch Maoz
Rishon LeTsion, ISRAEL

[The information covered in this article has come to a favorable conclusion, however is reprinted here to serve as an example of the types of persecution the believers and ministries in Israel face.  This is but one story of congreational harrassment in Israel.  There are many other occuring on a continual basis throughout the country.  Persecution of the believers does not arise out of the secular community as much as it arises out of some sectors of the religious community.]

As many of you will know, over the years I have repeatedly questioned reports from Israel about "persecution" of local believers in Jesus, Jewish or non-Jewish.  In the course of the last decade or so, the Orthodox religious sectors in Israeli society have been gaining political and cultural clout.  As a result, their representatives in the Israeli parliament have acted with increased hubris, as have Orthodox adherents in Israeli society.

Yad Le'Achim is a semi-governmental organisation, dedicated to combating what its leaders describe as "the mission" and its emissaries, "the missionaries", which are buzz words for the evangelical church in Israel, and for evangelical Christians, be they Jewish or otherwise.

Yad Le'Achim has sought various ways in order to intimidate, harass and obstruct evangelical life in the country, with a particular concern for evangelical witness.  Most of the means it employs are ludicrous, and evoke nothing more than a dismissive smile. But some bode ill for the future, particularly with reference to Israel's commitment to democracy.

Grace and Truth Christian Congregation has long been in the forefront of Yad Le'Achim's concerns because our congregation has, in the course of the years, led the way on many fronts.  We are also one of the few congregations that are openly Christian, frankly and broadly evangelistic, active in opposing restrictive legislation on freedom of religion, and growing. 

As readers of MaozNews will know, our building project has become the object of determined Orthodox opposition.  The legality of our building permit was opposed and, when roundly defended by the court, opposed again before the Supreme Court of Israel, which has yet to decide when it will hear the appeal.

[see update at the end of this article.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of this congregation and against Yad Le'Achim.]

Consequently, Yad Le'Achim has stepped up its efforts to harass members of the congregation.  It has sent representatives to the homes of congregants, posing as officials, who took advantage of the totalitarian background from which many of our congregants came, threatening them with deportation and loss of employment.  They have repeatedly sought to disrupt our worship services.  They have also taken to pressuring employers to terminate the employment of Grace and Truth congregants. 

Until now, all such efforts were crowned with the failure they deserve.

A few months ago, Yad Le'Achim began to apply pressure on the Petach Tivka (a town in the centre of the country) municipality in order to obtain the dismissal of Ze'ev Bern, a computer and computer systems technician serving the municipality's schools.  Mr. Bern has an excellent professional reputation and he is much esteemed by the school principals he served, as well as by all his co-workers.

After pressuring him by various means in hope of obtaining his resignation, Mr. Bern was finally dismissed from his job due to his religious beliefs and in spite of his professional performance.  Needless to say, he had never used his contact with the children at school in order to promote his religious views.  To have acted otherwise would have been contrary to his own religious convictions, and those of the church to which he belongs.  We believe that it is immoral and contrary to Gospel principles to take advantage of the innocence of children, or of trust put in an individual for another purpose, to promote one's religious convictions.

If we do not contest this illegal and immoral dismissal, we will have opened the door to further such action against many believers in IsraelIsrael's Basic Law forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or political persuasion. Obviously, after such treatment, Mr. Bern does not wish to return to his previous employment, from which he would be dismissed after a few months for any one concocted reason within reach.  We have, therefore, decided to press charges against the Petach Tikva municipality for unlawful dismissal on the grounds of religious convictions. In a Members' Meeting held on Tuesday, July 23, the congregation voted:

        1.  To oppose the unlawful dismissal of one of our members by all legal procedures.  Our goal will be to be awarded maximal punitive damages, so as to render further such dismissals unlikely,

        2. To fund the legal battle from our own severely limited resources,

        3.  To assist the Bern family (Ze'ev, Rita and their two children) to feed themselves and meet their financial obligations until alternative employment is found.  This could take some time in light of present economic conditions in Israel. Assistance will be in the form of a non-interest loan, to be paid back from the damages awarded by the court,

        4. To fund these expenses by increasing congregants' weekly contributions to the best of                     each family's abilities, and beyond current undertakings to the church.

We seek your prayer and support in defending the local believers in Israel: we kindly ask you to contact your representative lawmaker and your government to protest the unacceptable infraction of basic human rights to employment and the obvious religious motivation of Mr. Bern's dismissal. 

Our earnest request is that all protests and information be void of inflammatory content and that protestors studiously avoid anti-Israeli statements.  The behaviour of the Orthodox, and the cowardice of the Petach Tivka municipality are not representative of Israeli society or of government policy.  It is a local event that the Orthodox would like to turn into a precedent, and one that we wish to turn into a contrary precedent.  Please help us by expressing yourselves kindly and gently to our nation, which is faced with the terrible pain of an ongoing war against uninhibited terrorism.

To succeed in our struggle on behalf of Zeev, and of other believers in Israel who might be be threatened with a similar loss of empoyment, it is important that the international community responds with friendly letters of protest and concern. 

Update: The High Court Decision - Grace and Truth's Building Permit

On Wednesday, January 29, Israel's High Court convened to decide the appeal submitted by the semi-governmental anti-Christian Orthodox organisation, Yad Le'Achim, against Grace and Truth's building permit. This followed a ruling in the congregation's favour in Israel's Southern Regional Court, presided over by the President of the Southern Regional Court.

The High Court held an extensive discussion, cross-examining the lawyers representing both sides for about two hours, focusing primarily on the technical issues whether or not such a building as we were constructing is allowable in an area zoned as is our mixed commercial and industrial area. Finally a decision was rendered - in favour of the congregation. This is a landmark decision. All legal obstacles to constructing our building have been removed - there is no higher court of appeal.

We give thanks to all who have prayed for us, supported us financially in the course of this expensive legal struggle and who wrote to tell us they are praying for us.

We give God thanks for sustaining us through this time of trial, and for the outcome he has decreed. 

Baruch Maoz pastors the Grace and Truth Christian Congregation, in Rishon LeTsion.                   top of page

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