Israel is being accused of refusing to issue work visas to evangelical Christian preachers. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) claims its applications for clergy visas have been rejected because it no longer qualifies as a “religious institution.”
It was established in 1980 to encourage Christians worldwide to stand with Israel and the Jewish people in solidarity and friendship. CBN News reports the charity focuses on humanitarian work, including caring for Holocaust survivors, providing more than 250 bomb shelters and investing A$40 million a year in projects across the country. It also brings thousands of Christians to Jerusalem each year for the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles.
The charity’s president Dr. Juergen Buehler told All Israel News that his team hasn’t been told why the government has made this policy change towards ICEJ and other evangelical groups. “The situation we face at the moment with the Ministry of Interior is unprecedented, It has made us unable to operate effectively in our mission to stand and support the State of Israel,” he said.
“In particular our television and media department is affected by the new visa policy which is even more difficult to understand. This is the main arm of the Christian Embassy for hasbara [a Hebrew expression meaning public relations], telling good news about Israel and fighting anti-Semitism,” Dr. Buehler continued, adding: “We are clueless and disappointed in this new change of policy and, of course, we hope this will be reversed to the previous mode of operation as soon as possible.”
Vice president David Parsons told Israeli media the ICEJ is being squeezed out of existence with the change in policy coming without warning. “This denial comes despite the fact that we are in both name and nature a Christian organisation,” Mr. Parsons asserted, adding that the only option remaining was to request volunteer visas, which are now also subject to severe restrictions, limiting potential volunteers to single people from well-to-do countries.
The Christian Post writes that according to the immigration law firm Kan-Tor & Acco, A-3 religious visas have been typically granted to “non-Israeli nationals who intend to serve in an acknowledged religious establishment in Israel and to permit global religious figures to carry out their religious duties.” The A-3 visa is valid for a year and requires annual renewal.
“These organisations including some of our clients have been functioning in Israel for years and have not been provided with a reason for this decision,” an update from the law firm reads. “It is not yet clear if this is a policy alteration that began with the establishment of the current Israeli administration. The Population and Immigration Authority noted that this matter has previously been discussed and will soon be reviewed by its new director-general,” it continued.
Other evangelical organisations including the Baptist Convention of Israel and Christian Friends of Israel have also faced difficulties in obtaining clergy visas. Much of their efforts are directed at strengthening Israel’s national security, with many believing that the return of Jews to Israel is a precursor to the second coming of Jesus.
The sudden crackdown has left evangelical organisations and advocates who have had good relations with Israel’s right-wing governments in the past, confused. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often touted the importance of strong relationships with the international evangelical community which played a role in former President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
Joel C. Rosenburg, an American-Israeli evangelical activist, news editor and author, recently wrote that it’s unclear if Interior Minister Moshe Arbel, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi and Knesset member who is part of the religious Shas political party, is responsible for the change in policy. “It may very well be happening at lower levels and the Minister is not aware of either the problem or the potential fallout of blatantly discriminating against the Christian Zionist friends and allies of Israel,” Mr. Rosenburg stated.