Interior Ministry 'Nixing' Visas for Evangelicals

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Outgoing executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Malcolm Hedding, said the Israeli Interior Ministry is making it increasingly difficult for evangelicals to secure visas to work for Christian organizations in the country.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post just before his departure, Hedding said the Interior Ministry's policy caused the embassy to reduce its staff by one-third -- from 60 to 40.

"To me, this has been one of the most disappointing things because here we have Israel's best friends and they are struggling to operate because the Interior Ministry cannot enter into any type of working agreement with us on how to move forward," Hedding said, adding that some senior staff members had been removed "overnight."

A spokeswoman for the ministry called the claim "baseless," saying there had been "no change in the policy toward the embassy."

The ICEJ holds the largest annual tourism event in the country during the fall festival of Sukkot -- the Feast of Tabernacles -- generating an estimated $15-20 million in income, according to the Tourism Ministry.

Over the years, the embassy has maintained a strict policy of not proselytizing, Hedding said, though "there are Israelis who are always suspicious; that's a given."

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