Sekulow recounts discrimination, persecution facing Messianic Jews

NEW YORK (BP)--Jewish believers in Jesus, often called Messianic Jews, face discrimination and persecution from larger Jewish communities in the United States and Israel, said speakers during "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism," Sept. 23-25 at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan.

"Messianic Jews face distinct difficulties not encountered by others who believe in Yeshua [Jesus]," said Jay Sekulow, chief legal counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, who presented a paper he co-wrote with ACLJ attorney Mark N. Troobnick, who, like Sekulow, is a Messianic Jew.

Describing various challenges faced by Messianic Jews, Sekulow said, "[They] face obstacles in America ... because they in most instances adhere to the tenets of Christianity. Messianic Jews must contend not only with hostile Jewish communities but also with a hostile liberal elite on the crucial social issues of the day such as abortion, parental rights and homosexuality."

One form of discrimination comes from the hands of fellow Jews who claim "the one thing a Jew cannot do -- and remain a Jew -- is to embrace Christianity," said Paul Feinberg, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.

"You can believe what you want," Feinberg said, describing the attitudes of some Jewish leaders. "It is incredible that one can believe almost anything they want about God -- or nothing at all -- and still [be considered] a Jew. The one thing they cannot do is embrace Jesus as the promised Messiah. ... [But] Christianity is unmistakably Jewish, and that must be clear."

Sekulow said Messianic Jews in the United States are "living in a culture that is 'ABC' -- anything but Christianity. Anything goes except our faith."

Sponsored by Chosen People Ministries of Charlotte, N.C. (formerly the American Board of Missions to the Jews), the conference was held at Calvary Baptist Church -- an independent Baptist congregation formerly associated with American Baptists and pastored by David Epstein, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose grandfather was Jewish.

Jews in the United States who persecute Messianic Jews are practicing a form of discrimination they themselves once experienced, Sekulow pointed out.

"Forty years ago, Jews still had to form their own golf clubs and social organizations because of prevailing anti-Semitism," Sekulow said. "American Jews have a short ethnic memory for such prejudices. They feel little compunction to perpetrate the same atrocities on their own brethren now, simply because they believe that Yeshua is the Messiah."

But Sekulow warned that Jewish discrimination against Messianic Jews is not limited to the United States.

"There is increasing societal and governmental hostility to Christian religious expression in both America and in Israel," Sekulow said. "Messianic Jewish religious expression ... suffers unique disabilities in both countries."

One particularly troubling development came a decade ago, Sekulow noted, when Israel's Supreme Court decided on Dec. 25, 1989, that "Messianic Jews are not Jews eligible to become citizens within the Law of Return" which was formulated by modern Israel's founders to grant "every Jew the right to become a citizen of Israel."

More recently, immigration for Messianic Jews has become even more difficult, Sekulow said.

"Recent changes in some immigration forms leave little hope for Messianic Jews attempting to immigrate under the Law of Return," Sekulow said. "The forms contain direct questions about a belief in Yeshua as Messiah.

"Since lying is not an option, a Messianic Jew can only honestly complete the form and hope for the best in such circumstances. The optimum route to take in these situations is to quietly resolve the issues with the immigration officials involved."

Sekulow said litigation in Israeli courts will probably not be helpful, given the state of Israel's judicial system.

"Because of the current composition of the Israeli Supreme Court, active litigation will only result in a reiteration of past bad precedent, thus reinforcing these rulings as irrefutable," Sekulow said.

Citing numerous legal and criminal attacks against Messianic Jews in Israel, Sekulow added, "It seems unreal that a society which was literally birthed out of the Holocaust one generation ago could in any way deny religious freedom. That is, however, exactly what is occurring in Israel."

Sekulow, who has argued eight cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, told conferees that his organization is establishing the International Center for Law and Justice.

The new organization's purpose will be to "work with attorneys in Israel -- to ensure that when the inevitable persecution comes against Messianic Jews, they will be afforded some form of legal due process."

The ICLJ will be comprised of "experienced litigators, including Israelis, who are willing to fight for the rights of Messianic Jews," Sekulow said.

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