Barry Barnett, 50, a London-based worker with Jews for Jesus, was ordered on Nov. 24 to leave Israel by Dec. 3. Barnett was volunteering at Jews for Jesus' "Behold your God Israel" campaign around the city of Be'er Shiva when he was arrested Nov. 20 at about 4 p.m.
Baptist Press sought comment from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism via its Atlanta office. As of press time, the Israeli agency had not responded to Baptist Press' query.
"They did not really give a reason why they detained him," Dan Sered, Israel director for Jews for Jesus, told Morning Star News. "All they said is that he was doing 'missionary activity.' That is correct, he was doing missionary activity, and that is legal to do in Israel."
Sered said Jews for Jesus would fight Barnett's deportation. If the order is not overturned, there is a risk it will become a legal precedent that could be used to expel missionaries or any expatriate engaging in religious activities deemed unacceptable by the Israeli government -- or by government officials acting alone.
The evangelistic team at the scene of the arrest consisted of Israeli citizens except for Barnett. Sered noted in a news release, "As an Israeli, I have been proud that our country allows for freedom of religion." But, he said, "hose who seized Barry and took him to prison have done a shameful thing."
Barnett's wife Alison told Morning Star News that six immigration control officers took Barnett from Be'er Shiva, about 80 miles south of Jerusalem, to an immigration office just outside of Jerusalem. Barnett was held there for several hours without charge, then transferred to an immigration-holding unit of a prison near Tel Aviv. He spent four days in jail before his court hearing Nov. 24.
Sered said the presiding judge at the hearing ruled that Barnett was not allowed to engage in "missionary activity" while in Israel.
"But the global ethics code for tourism, which the state of Israel signed and even advertises on its own Ministry of Tourism webpage, states that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is not only valid but also should be encouraged," Sered said. "Therefore, his deportation and arrest by the state of Israel was done without a real legal cause."
The Israeli immigration officers who arrested Barnett seized a banner he was holding with the evangelistic team. Julia Pascoe, UK branch leader for Jews for Jesus, said there was nothing inherently offensive on the banner. The banner read, "Salvation equals Jesus." It also had a telephone number to contact Jews for Jesus.
Alison Barnett said the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Christian group Yad L'Achim had followed Jews for Jesus teams to their campaign sites in Israel since the start the "Behold your God Israel" campaign. Yad L'Achim has a longstanding history of links with sympathetic government officials who take legal actions on their behalf.
Yad L'Achim has worked to deny Messianic Jews (who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah) the right of return to Israel and to deny spouses of Messianics immigration visas. They also picket and harass Messianics at their homes and their congregations and have been linked to different government agencies revoking the licensing of Messianic-owned businesses.
On Yad L'Achim's website, the organization reported about interfering with the Jews for Jesus campaign's "spiritually poisonous propaganda."
"Yad L'Achim has been dispatching beefed-up teams of activists wherever the missionaries are taking up positions in order to alert the public as to their nefarious goals," the organization stated.
This is the first time a Jews for Jesus member, either a worker or a volunteer, has been arrested in Israel, Pascoe said.
"We have enjoyed freedom of religion in Israel over many campaigns similar to this one; the treatment we received was atypical of the way the law is usually enforced," she said. "We have never experienced this before."
Barnett's wife also noted, "This is the first time we have had any problem like this at all, and we have done eight campaigns."
Nevertheless, Alison Barnett said she expects "opposition" when in Israel.
"And quite frankly," she added, "if we don't get any , we probably aren't doing our jobs right."
This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net