Messianic Jews in Israel Seek Apology for Attack

by | Apr 23, 2010 | Charisma Archive

After a final court hearing in Israel last week, a congregation of Messianic
Jews awaits a judge’s decision that could force an ultra-orthodox Jewish organization to publicly apologize to them for starting a riot and ransacking a
baptismal service.

A ruling in
favor of the Messianic group would mark the first time an organization opposing Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel has had to apologize to its victims for religious
persecution.

In 2006 Howard
Bass, pastor of Yeshua’s Inheritance congregation, filed suit against Yehuda Deri,
chief Sephardic rabbi in the city of Beer Sheva, and Yad L’Achim, an
organization that fights against Messianic Jews, for allegedly inciting a riot
at a December 2005 service that Bass was leading.

Bass has
demanded either a public apology for the attack or roughly $400,000 from
the rabbi and Yad L’Achim.

The case, Bass
said, was ultimately about “defending the name of Yeshua [Jesus]” and making
sure that Deri, the leadership of Yad L’Achim and those that support them know
they have to obey the law and respect the right of people to
worship.

“They are trying
to get away from having any responsibility,” Bass said.

On Dec. 24,
2005, during a baptismal service in Beer Sheva, a group of about 200 men pushed
their way into a small, covered structure being used to baptize two believers
and tried to stop the service. Police were called to the scene but could not
control the crowd.

Once inside the
building, the assailants tossed patio chairs, damaged audiovisual equipment,
threw a grill and other items into a baptismal pool, and then pushed
Bass into the pool
and broke his glasses.

“Their actions
were violent actions without regard [for injury],” Bass
said.

In the days
before the riot, Yad L’Achim had issued notices to people about a “mass baptism”
scheduled to take place at the facility in the sprawling city of 531,000 people
51 miles southwest of Jerusalem. In the days after the riot,
Deri bragged about the incident on a radio talk show, including a boast that
Bass had been “baptized” at the gathering.

The 2005
incident wasn’t the first time the church had to deal with a riotous attack
after Yad L’Achim disseminated false information about their activities. On Nov.
28, 1998, a crowd of roughly 1,000 protestors broke up a Yeshua’s Inheritance
service after the anti-Christian group spread a rumor that three busloads of
kidnapped Jewish minors were being brought in for baptism. The assailants threw
rocks, spit on parishioners and attempted to seize some of their children, Bass
said.

In response to
the 1998 attack and to what Bass described as a public, cavalier attitude about
the 2005 attack, Bass and others in the Messianic community agreed that he
needed to take legal action.

“What is
happening here has happened to Jews throughout the centuries,” Bass said about
persecution of Messianic Jews in Israel, adding that many in movements opposed
to Messianic Jews in Israel are “arrogant.” He compared their attitudes to the
attitudes that those in Hamas, a Palestinian group dedicated to the destruction
of the State of Israel, have toward Israelis in general.

“They say,
‘Recognize us, but we will never recognize you,'” Bass
said.

Long
Battle

Bass has fought
against the leadership of Yad L’Achim and Deri for four years through his
attorneys, Marvin Kramer and Kevork Nalbandian. But throughout the process,
Kramer said, the two defendants have refused to offer a genuine apology for the
misinformation that led to the 2005 riot or for the riot itself.

Kramer said
Bass’s legal team would offer language for an acceptable public apology, and
attorneys for the defendants in turn would offer language that amounted to no
real apology at all.

“We made several
attempts to make a compromise, but we couldn’t do it,” Kramer said.  “What we
were really looking for was a public apology, and they weren’t ready to give a
public apology. If we would have gotten the public apology, we would have
dropped the lawsuit at any point.”

Despite several
attempts to reach Yad L’Achim officials at both their U.S. and Israeli offices,
no one would comment.

The hearing on
April 15 was the final chance the parties had to come to an agreement; the judge
has 30 days to give a ruling. His decision will be issued by mail.

Kramer declined
to speculate on what the outcome of the case will be, but he said he had “proved
what we needed to prove to be successful.”

Belief in
Israel

Bass said he is
a strong supporter of Israel but is critical of the way Messianic Jews are
treated in the country.

“Israel opposes
the gospel, and these events show this to be true,” he said. Referring to
Israel, Bass paraphrased Stephen, one of Christianity’s early martyrs, “‘You
always resist the Spirit of God.’ What Stephen said was
true.”

Kramer said that
the lawsuit is not against the State of Israel or the Jewish people, but rather
for freedom of religion.

“It has to do
with a violation of rights of individuals to worship in accordance with the
basic tenants of their faith and to practice their faith in accordance with
their beliefs in accordance with law,” he said.

Terrorist
Organization?

Bass’ lawsuit is
just one of many legal troubles Yad L’Achim is facing. In February, the
Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ), a civil rights advocacy group, filed a
petition asking Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to
declare Yad L’Achim a terrorist organization and order that it be
dismantled.

In the 24-page
document Caleb Myers, an attorney for JIJ, outlined numerous incidences in which
Yad L’Achim or those linked with it had “incited hatred, racism, violence and
terror.” The document cited instances of persecution against Christians, as well
as kidnappings of Jewish women from their Arab partners.

“Israel
is a ‘Jewish and democratic’ state, while the actions of Yad L’Achim are not
consistent with either the noble values of Judaism or the values of democracy,”
the petition read. “Not to mention the fact that it is a country that arose on
the ashes of a people that was persecuted for its religion, and has resolved
since its establishment to bear the standard of full equality, without
discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or
nationality.”

According to the
document, Yad L’Achim went after people it
viewed as enemies of ultra-orthodox Judaism. The group particularly targeted
Messianic Jews and other Christians.

“Yad L’Achim refers to ‘missionary activity’ as if it was
the worst of criminal offenses and often arouses fear of this activity,” the
document read. “It should be noted that in the State of Israel there is no
prohibition against ‘missionary activity’ as the dissemination of religion
and/or faith among members of other religions/faiths, unless such activity
solicits religious conversion, as stated in various sections of the Penal Code,
which bans the solicitation of religious conversion among minors, or among
adults by offering bribes.

“Furthermore, the organization often presents anyone
belonging to the Christian religion, in all its forms, as a ‘missionary,’ even
if he does not work to spread his religion.”

Particularly
damning in the document was reported testimony gleaned from Jack Teitel. Teitel, accused of planting a bomb on March
20, 2008 that almost killed the teenage son of a Messianic Jewish pastor,
told authorities that he worked with Yad
L’Achim.

“He
was asked to talk about his activity in Yad L’Achim and related that for some
five years he was active in the organization, and on average he helped to rescue
about five women each year,” the document read, using the Yad L’Achim term
“rescue” to refer to kidnapping.

The 2008 bombing
severely injured Ami Ortiz, then 15, but after 20 months he had largely
recovered.

Teitel, who said Ortiz family members were “missionaries trying to
capture weak Jews,” has been indicted on two cases of pre-meditated
murder, three cases of attempted murder, carrying a weapon, manufacturing a
weapon, possession of illegal weapons and incitement to commit
violence.

In interviews
with the Israeli media, Yad L’Achim Chairman Rabbi
Shalom Dov Lifshitz said his organization wasn’t connected with the
attacks of the Ortiz family or with Teitel.

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