Beersheva's Messianic Jews Await Trial Outcome

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JERUSALEM - A pivotal court case takes place this week in a trial involving the rights of Messianic Jews in Israel.

In December 2005, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Beersheva stormed a congregation of Messianic Jews - Jews who believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

The attackers violently disrupted a baptismal service and police found it difficult to restore order.

It wasn't the first time the congregation had been harassed. The attack eventually led the Messianic Jews to bring Beersheva's chief rabbi and the regional head of a group called Yad L'achim to court.

"We just knew something this time needed to be done to protect the flock and also to honor the name of Yeshua here, of Jesus here, because they were totally making light of it all," Pastor Howard Bass said.

Yad L'achim has attracted international attention for trying to prevent the preaching of the gospel during demonstrations like one in the Israeli town of Arad. Their efforts have also attracted the attention of the U.S. government.

A 2009 U.S. State Department report on religious rights in Israel found "increased press reporting and complaints from religious freedom activists indicated a corresponding increase in Yad L'achim and associated activism and a growing wider backlash against the presence of evangelical or Messianic Jewish congregations."

Ami Ortiz Attacker

CBN News has also reported on Jack Teitel, the confessed bomber in the attempted murder of Ami Ortiz, the son of a Messianic pastor in Israel. Teitel admitted to police he was an active member of Yad L'achim for five years. The group denies his claim.

Based on Teitel's confession and other suspicious activities, Israel's attorney general received an appeal by one human rights group to dismantle Yad L'achim and label it a "terrorist organization" since it acted "contrary to the law and the democratic nature of the state of Israel."

The group concluded that Yad L'achim's actions severely damaged Israel's international reputation.

The attorney general has yet to make a decision on the appeal while Yad L'achim says it will sue the group filing the appeal for slander.

In the meantime, the two sides in the case will meet on April 15. The judge wants them to reach a settlement on their own. If not, he will render his verdict. The judge's ruling could have a major impact on freedom of religion in Israel.

Not Against Israel

Regardless of the outcome, Bass emphasizes this is not an anti-Israel case.

"We're not against Israel. We're not against the Jewish people," he said.

 "We're simply trying to uphold the truth of the Gospel on the one hand. But also to uphold the legitimate rights we have under the existing laws of the State that we can worship as believers in Beersheva and Israel without fearing that they're going to come in and attack us."

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