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Israel Authorities Say They'll 'Reevaluate' Blockage of Visas for ICEJ Clergy

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JERUSALEM, Israel – The future of a major evangelical organization operating in Israel for more than 40 years could be threatened by government bureaucrats. That's because its workers have been blocked from obtaining visas.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem told Israeli media the government rejected their request for clergy visas because it determined the ICEJ no longer qualifies as a "religious institution."

ICEJ Vice President David Parsons told CBN News, "We've faced about a 3-year period now, because of COVID, because of five elections in 3 and a half years, mid-level bureaucrats and a lot of these (government) ministries have been free to make their own decisions without proper supervision from above – from people who sort of see the wider picture of, say, the Christian support for Israel – how strategic it is for the Jewish State.”    

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Parsons says certain government employees with a bias against Christians are trying to squeeze them out of all visa categories for remaining in the country, including for clergy, work, and volunteer.

"Going forward long-term, it would be hard to operate under these conditions," Parsons explained. "We have been told for three and a half years that it's under review. But in the meantime, we've just been whittled away to where we finally went public with it."

After the dispute became public, the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, responsible for providing visas, gave a statement regarding the situation. It stated:

"This issue has been discussed in the past. The new head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Eyal Sisu, is expected to reevaluate the issue, and decisions will be taken in accordance with the law and regulations, taking into account diplomatic considerations, Israel's relations with religious and other organizations, and other relvant considerations."

Just days later, that agency's chief of staff notified ICEJ's attorney that the visa policy is under review, and they would soon reach an understanding.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the issue has also been brought before the "highest levels of the Israeli government."

The ICEJ first registered as a non-profit organization in 1980, with the approval of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Its mandate: to encourage Christians worldwide to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.

Each year, the ICEJ hosts the Feast of Tabernacles celebration, drawing thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world to Jerusalem.

Tensions have been growing since the current government took over last year, after religious parties won the highest number of seats they've ever had in the Knesset.

In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the Knesset would not "advance any law against the Christian community," after two ultra-Orthodox members wanted to make it a criminal offense to persuade anyone to convert to another religion.

More than a decade ago, Netanyahu stated his belief that Christian support was key to the founding of the State of Israel.

He observed, "I think that the many Christian supporters of the re-birth of the Jewish state and the ingathering of the Jewish people in the 19th century made possible the rise of Jewish Zionism."

Parsons noted that since they started, the ICEJ has also worked with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which never had a problem with clergy visas.

"If this was allowed to continue, and we were declared by someone, not a religious organization, then our very existence is called into question," he said.

Parsons hopes to see a resolution in the ICEJ's favor.

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and