A religious event held by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel has spurred both local anger and violent protests. Normally, Israel ranks as the most free nation in the Mideast where a substantial minority of Israeli Arabs practice their various faiths in freedom and even 16 Arabs are members of the Israeli Knesset government. But, many in the Israeli Jewish majority resent any new efforts by existing Christian churches to expand their base of believers. This past week members of the small Israeli Jehovah’s Witness community held a relatively small religious event, that some viewed as an attempt by Christians to lure younger Jews away from their Jewish faith towards the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
The Jehovah’s Witness faith has some appeal among Jews who want to convert to a Christian church because the Jehovah’s Witness faith is largely Old Testament based, and there is less of an emphasis on Jesus the claimed son of God, but on Jehovah God himself, and some events such as the Last Supper, is a Jehovah’s Witness holy event, which is actually the same as the Passover. With so many close beliefs as Jews, many Jews feel at home with a Christian church that closely follows their previously held religious views. The Jehovah’s Witness faith may even become a type of bridge faith between the Jew who desires to become a Christian, yet to feel at home with their Jewish ancestry and traditions.
But, with Israel the only Jewish homeland, many in Israel resent attempts by any Christian faiths to increase their membership, viewing any such efforts as a threat to the Jewish state on their own homeland. Courts in Israel will defend the rights of Christian churches to hold events under freedom of religion as guaranteed in Israel, while some of the more extreme or conservative Jews view almost any Christian event as a sort of threat to Jewish religious identity in the small Jewish nation and homeland. How Israel finally resolves religious freedom, those wanting to convert to a Christian faith, the Jewish identity of the nation and religious tolerance in general, as well as the bad international public relations caused by violent protests when Israeli Christians hold events such as this past week, all raise questions of what courts and public opinion should be in Israel in terms of overall religious tolerance.