The Ra’anana municipality has canceled an event organized by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel, concerned that the religious group’s meeting would “hurt the feelings of the public.”
The event, which should have been held Saturday in the Ra’anana municipal sports center, was canceled following pressure by the anti-missionary group Yad L’Achim.
Although the event was set to include only a seminar, Yad L’Achim had warned earlier in the week that it would be a “mass baptism.” The four Orthodox members on the municipality said they would resign if the event took place.
The Lod District Court rejected a petition by the association, Watchtower for Israel, for an emergency order to allow the event to be held.
On Thursday afternoon, the Ra’anana municipality posted on its Facebook page that when it became known that Jehovah’s Witnesses “was planning on holding a lecture in Ra’anana, out of a desire to respect the feelings of the residents of the city – and out of serious and real concern that harsh actions could deteriorate into disturbance of the peace to the extent of fear for the safety of residents – the municipality held talks jointly with Israel Police and the group to dissuade them from holding the event in Ra’anana by consensus. Unfortunately, these efforts were fruitless, so the municipality was forced to inform the group that the event was canceled.”
The municipality denied that Yad L’Achim or the resignation threat of the Orthodox city councillors had played a part in its decision.
Following the municipality’s refusal on Thursday to allow the event, Jehovah’s Witnesses went to court, claiming that the municipality’s actions constituted a violation of religious freedom and that it had a right to hold the event on municipal premises. The city responded that it had the right to prevent the event from taking place.
The court rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses petition and is expected to publish a ruling this week regarding such events in the future.
The Ra’anana municipality said it “welcomes the court’s verdict, which properly considered the circumstances and decided not to order that the event be held.” The municipality also said it would “continue to work for the good of the city’s residents out of respect and recognition of the needs and desires of all the residents.”
Yad L’Achim claimed last Wednesday that “buses all over the country would bring innocent Jews to be baptized on the Sabbath at the Ra’anana municipal sports center.” It called on its supporters to pressure the city not to hold the event. It subsequently published a letter signed by Deputy Mayor Chaim Goldman and his fellow Orthodox faction members – city councillors Drora Cohen, Eli Cohen and Shlomo Friedman – that “if the event takes place, the faction will not see itself as one of the partners in the coalition.”
On Friday afternoon, Yad L’Achim said it was “pleased to announce that cooperation among many factions, including the chief rabbi of Ra’anana, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, religious council members, residents of Ra’anana and Jews who care from all over the country and who answered our call and expressed protest, the preaching and baptism event has been canceled.” The statement added that Yad L’Achim “thanked those who took part and assisted in the cancelation, and thus contributed to the sanctification of God.”
Last March, the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court rejected a demand by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel to allow it to hold weekly activities in a classroom in the Raziel high school. The city argued that it canceled its contract with the group before the necessary authorization was issued because the school principal learned that the activity involved ostensibly a Christian missionary group whose faith went against the educational goals in Israel’s public school system.
Jehovah’s Witnesses argued unsuccessfully that the cancellation had stemmed from extraneous considerations and constituted wrongful religious discrimination.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christian-based religious movement that was founded in the United States in the late 19th century. It is known for its evangelical approach, going door-to-door to spread the word of Jehovah (God). There are an estimated 8 million “Witnesses” around the world, including more than a million in the United States.