Recently, two orthodox Jewish members of Israel’s Knesset (parliament), Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Asher, introduced proposed Penal Law: Amendment – Prohibition of Solicitation for Religious conversion – 2023.
It would prohibit members of any religion from evangelising, specifically trying to persuade or convert a person of a different faith through face-to-face conversations, mail, or online videos.
According to All Israel News, the bill specifically mentioned missionary groups, especially Christians. The legislation, “Prohibition of Solicitation for Religious Conversion,” would amend Israel’s penal law from 1977 to say the following, “(a) someone who solicits a person, directly, digitally, by mail, or online in order to convert his religion, the punishment – one year imprisonment; and if the person was a minor, the punishment – two years imprisonment.”
The proposal also stated, “Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased.
The production and publishing of online videos explaining the Gospel to Jews or Muslims in Israel would be illegal, according to the proposed bill.
The bill is not new and has been put forth several times before. Gafni first introduced a version back in 1999. The current proposal is a rehash of a bill that the two lawmakers have introduced and attempted to pass several times over the years. In 2013, they proposed a similar bill, which was voted down in 2014. All parties except the ultra-Orthodox ones voted against it.
They brought it up again in 2015 and 2021, but those law proposals never even made it to a first hearing before the Knesset was dissolved.
However, this is the first time the proposed law is being presented while Gafni and Asher serve, not just as members of Knesset but in the governing coalition.
Several analysts have stated that this anti-conversion bill is giving Israel a bad name as they see it as restricting freedom of religious expression.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said nothing publicly about the legislation; all Israel News reported, “To his credit, Netanyahu has never allowed such legislation to advance or be approved in the past.”
They also detailed Netanyahu’s strong support for the Christian community in Israel, especially for Christian evangelicals in the United States. The proposal has created friction with America’s evangelical community, which strongly supports Israel. It is anticipated to witness a sharp rebuttal.