The annual US state reports on International Religious Freedom have been published today, October 2009. You can read its report on Israel on the Department of State website.
This is what the report says on religious freedom in Israel:
While the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty does not specifically refer to freedom of religion, it does refer to the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which explicitly provides for the protection of religious freedom. In addition, numerous Supreme Court rulings incorporate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including their religious freedom provisions, into the country’s body of law. The Declaration describes the country as a Jewish state, establishing Judaism as the dominant religion while also promising full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. The Basic Law describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.
The report notes:
There is a small but growing community of approximately 10,000 Messianic Jews.
On discrimination against Messianic Jews:
The legal defense NGO, Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), alleged again this reporting period that officials in the Interior Ministry denied services to some citizens based on their religious beliefs. The JIJ’s legal defense caseload included numerous cases dealing with attempts by the Interior Ministry to revoke the citizenship of persons discovered holding Messianic or Christian beliefs, or to deny some national services–such as welfare benefits or passports–to such persons. In other cases the JIJ alleged that the Interior Ministry refused to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return if it was determined such persons held Christian or Messianic Jewish religious beliefs. On May 13, 2009, the JIJ filed a petition to the High Court on behalf of three Messianic Jews under the Law of Return whose application for immigration was blocked by the Ministry of Interior. They cited an April 2008 High Court ruling, which stated that the Government could not deny status to a person eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return on the basis of that person’s identification as a Messianic Jew, provided that person was not also considered Jewish under the Orthodox definition. The case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
On Messianic Jews in Israeli society:
Jewish-Arab tensions remained at approximately the same level as in recent years. However, tensions between some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities and evangelical Christians and Messianic Jewish communities grew significantly during 2007 and 2008, and maintained their elevated levels through the end of the reporting period.
On the activities of Yad L’Achim, the harassment of Messianic Jews, and the false belief that missionary activity in Israel is illegal:
Society’s attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally were negative. Most Jews were opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews, and some were hostile to Jewish converts to Christianity. While proselytism is officially legal, missionaries continued to face harassment and discrimination by some Jewish activists and organizations. The Messianic Jewish and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, among others, accused groups such as Yad L’Achim and Lev L’Achim, and Jewish religious organizations opposed to missionary activity, of harassing and occasionally assaulting their members. According to Yad L’Achim’s annual report for 2008, quoted in the newspaper Yom L’Yom, the organization “saved 174 souls from the clutches of the [Messianic and evangelical] mission” during the year. The organization’s semi-clandestine Counter-Missionary Department, headed by Rabbi Alex Artovski, also claimed to have dozens of informants and infiltrators in the Government and in Christian or Messianic Jewish congregations, enabling the organization to force the closure of 18 religious meeting places and expel 12 “top-ranking” missionaries from the country during 2008. According to JIJ attorneys and representatives of affected religious communities, Yad L’Achim succeeded in such activities by pressuring landlords, employers and Interior Ministry officials to assist its campaign against groups it deemed “dangerous cults.”
Despite harassment, the number of Messianic Jews and evangelical Christians has grown in recent years through both immigration and conversion. During the reporting period, however, increased press reporting and complaints from religious freedom activists indicated a corresponding increase in Yad L’achim and associated activism, and a growing wider backlash against the presence of evangelical Christian or Messianic Jewish congregations and missionaries living in Jewish communities. Exacerbating these tensions was the widespread but false belief that proselytizing is illegal in the country.
On violence against Messianic Jews:
On June 10, 2009 the Be’er Sheva District Court handed down sentences to two defendants charged with assaulting the pastor of a Messianic congregation in Be’er Sheva and damaging property. Members of the congregation filed charges against the assailants after a witness to the assault filed a report with the Be’er Shiva police in December 2005. Earlier that month, a witness reported that a group of approximately 200 Orthodox Jews had violently disrupted the religious service of that congregation in Be’er Sheva. According to the account, the group pushed and slapped the congregation’s pastor and damaged property.
On May 15, 2009, ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street. According to press reports, secular passers-by joined in the beating before police intervened to stop them.
U.S. government policy:
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy consistently raised concerns of religious freedom with the Foreign Ministry, the police, the Prime Minister’s office, and other government agencies.
Embassy officials maintained a dialogue with NGOs that follow human and civil rights matters, including religious freedom, and promote interfaith initiatives. Embassy representatives also attended and spoke at meetings of such organizations.
Posted by Yeze.