Dan Sered, Israel director of Jews for Jesus, reports that one of Jews for Jesus UK staff in Israel on a B2 tourist visa has been arrested by immigration officers whilst he was holding a “Yeshua” banner in the southern Negev region of Israel:
Barry Barnett is participating in our Negev campaign here in Israel. He was out on an outreach bannering when six immigration inspectors detained him and seized our banner for no reason. Our outreach in Israel is 100% legal, and Barry is not an illegal worker in Israel. With his B2 tourist Visa he is permitted to exercise his faith, which is what he was doing. Barry has been held in an immigration office for four hours without cause and is now been taken to prison in Ramle near Tel Aviv.
Most tourists enter Israel on a B2 visa stipulating that no employment of any kind is permitted. For a discussion on the B2 visa read here. The Israeli Foreign Ministry definition of a B2 is as follows:
A B/2 visa is granted to someone who wishes to stay in Israel for only a short time (for a visit, tourism, a business meeting or study in a Hebrew ulpan). A person who enters Israel on a B/2 visa is not allowed to work in the State of Israel.
Jews for Jesus claim they have never had anyone imprisoned in Israel for expressing their faith. If Israeli immigration are going to start arresting tourists for holding banners and start to interpret the rules of the B2 visa in this way, any foreign political protester coming to Israel will face imprisonment, much like the plight of the Greenpeace Arctic 30. Barry Barnett may well be called the Jews for Jesus Negev 1, but one thing Israel needs to be cautious of is the manipulation of its immigration laws by non-governmental religious groups such as Yad L’Achim, whose raison d’etre is the eradication of all non-Orthodox Jewish life in Israel. Yad L’Achim’s relationship with the Ministry of Interior has been controversial in the past as recorded here and here.
It remains to be seen if the hand of Yad L’Achim is behind the imprisonment of Barry Barnett or not. However we do hope for his swift release from Ramle prison where he is held without charge. Jews for Jesus are most certainly unpopular in Israel, but a democracy is tested by its willingness and vigor in defending such hated minorities.