Shortly before Passover this year, the Jewish state inaugurated something decidedly non-Jewish — an evangelical channel preaching the Gospel around the clock. The Communications Ministry confirmed that it issued a license to Daystar, the second-largest U.S. Christian television network, whose evangelical programming kicks off with a half-hour show produced by its Jerusalem affiliate, Tarshish.
The remaining content is supplied from Daystar’s home base in Texas through the company’s worldwide satellite network. It will be carried in Israel via cable providers HOT, which reaches about 1 million households, and YES, which reaches 500,000.
Before the inauguration of the Gospel channel, Tarshish produced a television program entitled “Christian Covenant with Israel” for Daystar viewers to raise money for what Tarshish called its “many humanitarian projects” in Israel. Tarshish claims the program aims to “teach about the spiritual ties existing between the Jewish people and the world’s Christian community.”
However, a promotional DVD distributed by Tarshish features interviews with two Jerusalem residents who are the recipients of its aid — both described as “Messianic Jews.”
Marcus Lamb, Daystar’s president and an evangelical broadcaster, dramatically announced the Israeli license during the network’s Spring Telethon in late March. Lamb said the license is for a full-time television channel that will reach “every home” in Israel, “preaching the gospel 100 percent of the time.”
Lamb asked his viewing audience — some 43 million homes in the United States and untold millions in about 200 other countries via satellites, TV and cable systems — to contribute the $1 million necessary to fund the Holy Land link.
His studio guest, Pastor John Hagee, a televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel, appeared pleasantly surprised at the announcement.
“It’s just all I can do to keep from getting up and dancing,” he exclaimed. “It’s a joy and it’s a dream come true. If we are able to preach the gospel without reservation… it’s a major breakthrough.”
Hagee immediately offered to purchase the first “Friend of Israel” certificate for $1,000.
“Up until now, there has never been a 100 percent, full-time Christian television channel in the history of the nation of Israel,” Lamb said during the telethon. “It’s been illegal, or impractical, or it has been impossible, or it’s been prohibitive in the past.”
Middle East Television, with televangelist Pat Robertson, is available on cable in Israel, but it is broadcast from Cyprus.
Hagee noted that the Bible “talks about the gospel going forth from Jerusalem, and if this is in fact the announcement that the gospel can go forth without any limitations, without any editing and so forth… This is a first.”
Joni Lamb, Marcus Lamb’s wife and broadcasting partner, affirmed that the Israeli government would not edit the Daystar content in any way.
“That was part of the deal, that it couldn’t be edited. That was an issue in the past,” she said during the telethon.
Marcus Lamb said the license had been issued after a trial period of six to nine months during which the station’s Celebration program was aired daily in order to gauge the response from the Orthodox public. The trial reassured Israeli officials that no editing would be necessary.
“They didn’t get hardly any complaints and they got a lot of good, positive responses, because they’ve heard various things about American Christian television — so nobody is more astounded and more amazed than we are,” Lamb said.
Merav Strosberg-Alkabetz, a spokeswoman for the Israel Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting, said the council had awarded Daystar a license because “religious broadcasting (and it does not matter which religion is referred to) is permitted in the State of Israel, as long as it meets a number of basic criteria determined by the council.”
These essentially are prohibitions on harming other religions, exercising undue influence, threats or humiliation, soliciting donations, and a warning to exercise extreme caution in these matters.
She added that Daystar would be closely monitored to ensure it meets the licensing criteria and confirmed that its test broadcasts had not met with resistance. On the other hand, it’s virtually impossible to gauge how many Orthodox Jewish Israelis actually saw any of these broadcasts: While cable TV reaches some 65 percent of Israeli households, many fervently Orthodox Israelis do not own televisions. and even those who do may not be drawn to Daystar’s programming, which is in English and does not have Hebrew subtitles.
Lamb told viewers the negotiations had been going on for a year, during which Israeli legislators and businessmen had visited the channel, he said. He then made an appeal for funds.
“They are good Jewish businesspeople and they’re not going to do this out of the kindness of their hearts. The cost is, I believe, more than worth it, but it’s over $1 million a year,” he said. “Our Jewish friends are consummate business professionals. They have asked us to pay the entire first year up front.”
Lamb called for 1,000 viewers to pledge $1,000 each over the coming year to fund the Jerusalem station. After Hagee made the first pledge, Lamb promised to send a signed certificate and a copy of Hagee’s latest book, “The Jerusalem Countdown,” to all who followed suit.
“Will you be one of 1,000 to help us preach the gospel to thousands in the land of the Bible?” he asked.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.