JERUSALEM — An evangelical Christian broadcasting station’s recent launch in Israel is receiving criticism from Jewish anti-missionary organizations but scant attention from local Christians.

Daystar, a Texas-based broadcasting company whose website urges Christians “to sow a seed to extend the Gospel to the People of Israel,” launched its round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week programming on Israel’s Yes satellite network April 10 and on the HOT cable channel May 8.

The Christian network’s entry into Israeli broadcasting comes at a time when evangelical Christians are establishing stronger ties with Israelis, both personally and financially.

The largest evangelical project to date is a $50-million Christian heritage center and park slated to be built near the Sea of Galilee on valuable land provided by the Israeli government. The backers are several prominent evangelical Christians with extensive ministries in the United States.

Some evangelical ministries are actively encouraging their believers to invest in Israeli companies and products as a way to counteract periodic calls by anti-Israel groups to boycott Israeli goods.

While a succession of Israeli leaders, including Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, have long promoted warmer ties between pro-Israel evangelical Christians and have encouraged them to invest in the country, anti-missionary activists fear that many evangelicals simply want to convert Jews.

The issue of proselytizing is extremely sensitive in Israel, which was established as a refuge for the Jewish people in 1948, not long after 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Israel’s anti-missionary law prohibits people from providing an incentive — money or even food — for the purposes of encouraging someone to convert to another religion. The country’s broadcasting rules prohibit financial solicitations, unless they are telethons sanctioned by the government.

Israel Zinger, secretary to the director of the veteran Israeli anti-missionary organization Yad L’Achim, said that Daystar’s new channel is “very worrying.”

“We have watched several hours of Daystar’s programming, and it’s obvious that they’re not only teaching about Christianity. Their real purpose is to try to convince as many people as possible to become Christians. They believe that unless that happens, their Messiah — Jesus — won’t come. For [evangelical Christians], Israel is the place to save souls.”

In a video clip that appears on Daystar’s website (www.daystar.com), Marcus Lamb, Daystar’s founder and president, states that Daystar has just become “the first 100%, full-time Christian channel in the history of the nation of Israel.” Until now, he notes, such a channel has been deemed “illegal or … impractical or impossible or prohibited.”

Lamb proclaims that the channel “will go into every home in Israel, 24 hours a day, seven days a week praising the Gospel 100% of the time. Hallelujah!”

Nearly 2 million Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israeli households can tune into either cable or satellite TV stations.

Daystar’s program schedule, which is in English and identical to the one American Christians receive, broadcasts prayer services and shows hosted by ministers like Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee and Pat Robertson.

Janice Smith, Daystar’s vice president for programming, said that the company has received requests for Hebrew subtitles and that the matter is under consideration.

The fact that several of Daystar’s hosts are so-called Messianic Jews (Jews who have embraced Jesus) is particularly upsetting to Orthodox Jews both in Israel and abroad who believe that Messianic Jews are committed to converting the masses.

Roni Levy, who describes himself as Daystar’s Israeli partner, told the New York Jewish Week that the channel was established to allow Christians “to show their love of Israel. It’s not calling on Israelis to donate money or to get the message of Jesus. Not at all.”

Levy said that Daystar’s target audience in Israel “are solely Christians and those who can speak English. The programming is in English. If there were Hebrew subtitles, people would think we are trying to convert the Jewish people. I’m Orthodox myself, and believe me, that’s not our intention.”

Yoram Mokady, chairman of Israel’s Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting, said that his body issues a broadcast license “if there is no good reason to deny the request.”

Mokady added that Israel “is a democracy. We’ve had an open-skies policy for years. Israel is a country where you can use a satellite dish to receive any station you want, and there’s no problem legally.”

Above and beyond these democratic ideals, Mokady believes that Christians have as much a right to broadcast in Israel as Jews.

“We do have a Christian population in Israel, both Arab and otherwise,” said Mokady. “If you and I were to broadcast a Jewish station in the States, and a cable company wanted to stop it, we would be outraged.”

Ironically, few indigenous Holy Land Christians or Christian tourists appear to be aware that the Daystar channel even exists.

“I’ve never even heard of Daystar,” said Legionary Father John Solana, director of the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, an institute of the Holy See administered by the Legionaries of Christ.

Father Solana noted that local Catholics, the vast majority of them Arabic-speakers, even have trouble understanding Telepace, the Italian Catholic channel that broadcasts via satellite to the Holy Land and other locations around the world.

Due to this language barrier, Father Solana said, “The market here is very limited.”

For a Christian network to be successful in the Holy Land, he added, it would have to devise programming for the many types of Christians who live here.

“There are many different groups here,” Father Solana said of the Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical and other churches that call the region home. “The more choices of programming offered, the better.”

Father Humam Khzouz, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said that most of the Church’s local parishioners watch Tele Lumiere via satellite.

Established in 1991 following the bloody civil war in Lebanon, Tele Lumiere provides a wide variety of Catholic programming in Arabic.

The station is supervised by the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon.

“There are Masses, children’s programs, Scripture, some interfaith shows between Christians and Muslims,” Father Khzouz said. “It provides our parishioners with spiritual benefits.”

Michele Chabin

writes from Jerusalem.