JERUSALEM (Morning Star News) – A British messianic Jew deported from Israel last year for participating in an evangelistic outreach to Jews confirmed that he will appeal his case to the nation’s supreme court.
Barry Barnett, 50, left the country on Dec. 2 under a deportation order issued by Israel’s Ministry of the Interior. He was banned from the country for 10 years. Barnett said his primary concern is returning to Israel but that the case has religious rights implications that go far beyond him.
“If we win in the Supreme Court, not only does it get me back to Israel instead of waiting 10 years after having been deported, it means that every single Christian has the right or every religious person has the right to express their faith freely without intimidation,” Barnett said. “It’s about the right of religious expression.”
Barnett was arrested Nov. 20 near the city of Be’er Shiva by immigration enforcement officers at a Jews for Jesus “Behold your God Israel” campaign. The arrest struck members of Jews for Jesus as odd from the start; members of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group known as Yad L’Achim followed Barnett and other members of the group during the campaign, and organization leaders said officers with evident religious bias singled out Barnett, the only non-Israeli in his canvasing group.
Dan Sered, Israeli director of Jews for Jesus and Barnett believe Yad L’Achim, which has well-documented ties to the Ministry of the Interior, had a role in Barnett’s arrest.
“I think someone is taking advantage of the fact that the State of Israel is The ‘Jewish’ State of Israel, and Yad L’Achim and the religious institutions and authorities are trying to use all means to ‘protect’ what they see as the Jewish State of Israel,” Sered said. “I think Yad L’Achim used their own power and influence to get the immigration police to do this. I don’t at all think that it was a coincidence that those who arrested him were all ‘religious’ [strictly practicing] Jews.”
Missionary work is legal in Israel as long as no material incentive for conversion is given and no minors are evangelized. Also, Israel is a signatory to the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, an international agreement stating that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is valid and should be encouraged.
The officials intimidated and interrogated Barnett and then held him in an immigration detention center for four days, he said. Barnett then had a court hearing with an immigration judge. Ministry of the Interior officials claimed that Barnett violated the terms of his B-2 tourist visa for doing “missionary work.”
The judge found in favor of the officials and released Barnett on bail. Shortly after returning to the United Kingdom, Barnett started the process of re-entering the country, but when he applied for another tourist visa, he was informed that the Ministry of the Interior had banned him from the country for 10 years.
“I went to the Israeli embassy, and they said, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have done what you did, it was illegal,’ Barnett said. “So I explained to them Israeli law. I explained Israeli law to the Israeli embassy, and said, ‘No, it’s not illegal. Every person has the right in Israel to express their religion freely – to give out leaflets, to put up a banner – as long as I am not enticing anyone through money or material benefit.’”
Lawyers for Jews for Jesus in Israel appealed the case in March and lost in the lower court. According to Sered, the appeal judge believed the state because she thought Barnett was “acting in a way that wasn’t normal tourism.”
“She ruled believing the state, that Barry was working,” Sered said. “But even if he was working, any employee – anybody who works for an international organization who comes into Israel – comes in and they’re working, and they get the same type of visa that Barry got. A B1/B2 visa is what an employee from Intel gets if Intel USA sends somebody to check over the plants that they have in the south in Israel.”
Likewise, Sered added that if a university professor from Harvard comes to Hebrew University to teach a lecture, Hebrew University will pay all of his expenses, “his hotel, his stay and he comes and gives his lecture – and he is working.”
A hearing for the Supreme Court appeal is set for Feb. 9. Barnett will not attend because of his ban from the country, but he said he doesn’t feel the need to be there.
“God will be fighting for me in court anyway,” he said.
Sered said he is hopeful Jews for Jesus will win the case, but that the whole incident has been somewhat of a shock to him.
“I was always raised to see Israel as a democracy where justice is blind,” Sered said, adding that the rights of freedom of speech and religion have made Israel the country it is to today. “This is the difference between Israel and Iran. This is exactly why we are the only democracy [in the Middle East].”