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Israel orders US-based evangelical channel off air over conversion accusations

Broadcast regulator pulls licence for God TV's Shelanu channel, accusing the network of proselytising
Supporters pray as US President Donald Trump speaks during an 'evangelicals for Trump' campaign held at the King Jesus International Ministry on 3 January in Miami, Florida (AFP/File photo)

Israel's TV regulatory authority has ordered a US-based evangelical channel to be taken off air, accusing the broadcaster of hiding its missionary agenda when it applied for a state licence. 

The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council announced on Sunday that God TV's Hebrew channel, Shelanu, would be taken off air in the next seven days and was welcome to submit a new licence application that provided a more honest depiction of the nature of its programming.

The council's chairman Asher Biton said the channel's "original request" claimed it would target Israel's Christian population, but instead, "the channel appeals to Jews with Christian content". 

"An examination of the council's supervision wing shows that the channel does not appeal to the Christian population in Israel, but rather to the Jews," the council said in a statement, NBC news reported.

"Therefore, the characterisation of the channel submitted for approval does not reflect its broadcasts."

God TV responded to criticisms earlier this month, slamming efforts to shut down the station as political.  

It said when it applied for a broadcasting licence it "stated unequivocally" that its content would be in Hebrew, targeting the Israeli public. 

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The overwhelming majority of Christians in Israel are Palestinian and speak Arabic, "therefore it is not at all clear what was wrong beyond political considerations", the channel said.

Founded in the UK in 1995, God TV eventually grew into a 24-hour network with offices in several countries. Its international broadcasting licences are held by a Florida-based non-profit and it claims to reach 300 million households worldwide.

Earlier this month, God TV's CEO, Ward Simpson, said opposition to the channel arose "because of a poorly worded fundraising video" that featured the CEO saying that "there are nine million people in Israel who need to hear the gospel of Jesus". 

"Now they have an opportunity to hear that Yeshua (Jesus) is here for them. He is their answer, their saviour, their deliverer," Simpson said on the video. 

Apologising for the video and taking it down from the channel's websites, Simpson said he understood "why it was offensive". 

While seeking to convert someone to another religion or proselytising is not illegal in Israel, the law does ban conversion efforts targeting minors as well as the promise of monetary or material compensation for converting, according to the Jerusalem Post. 

The controversy marks a surprising turn of events, as the US's evangelical Christian community has long been one of Israel's most stringent supporters, viewing the creation of Israel as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Evangelical Christians are also considered to be at the heart of US President Donald Trump's base, with both Trump and Israel welcoming their political and financial support.