Israel officials announced Sunday they have withdrawn the broadcast license for a U.S.-based evangelical TV channel that they allege hid its missionary agenda when applying for a license.
Chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council Asher Biton said in his decision that he told parent company “GOD TV,” along with Israeli cable television provider Hot, on Thursday that their Hebrew-language “Shelanu” station had seven days to stop broadcasting.
Haaretz daily first reported on Saturday the ruling that will shut down a Christian channel broadcast in the country for the first time.
Biton wrote in a letter to Hot, saying he would not have approved the station’s seven-year contract as quickly if he knew the target audience was the Jewish community. The chairman said the original application for the station that began airing in late April said it was a “station targeting the Christian population,” The Associated Press reported.
“A channel that wishes to spread the gospel of Jesus among the Jewish nation sitting in Israel had never been broadcast on Hot, and the heads of the channel knew that, as was clarified in the hearing we held,” he wrote, according to Haaretz.
The chairman said Christian programming targeting Jews is “complicated and sensitive matter” and said the broadcasters should have been more upfront about the channel. Proselytizing to children under age 18 is illegal in the country, prompting Biton to say if he knew about what the channel would air, he would have determined if it was targeting children.
“Therefore, whether it was a violation of the obligation for fairness, a deliberate cover-up or a decision to change the nature of programming after the license was approved, the channel should not be allowed to continue broadcasting based on the license it was given,” he said.
The controversy over the mission of Shelanu began after GOD TV’s CEO Ward Simpson said in a since-deleted fundraising video that, “God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people.”
Then-Israeli communications minister David Amsalem accused GOD TV of being a "missionary channel" shortly after it was launched in April, according to AFP.
GOD TV released a statement after removing the video saying that the channel was not trying to convert Jews to Christianity but wanted Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah, according to Haaretz.
Shelanu said in a statement that it was stunned by Biton’s “unprofessional decision,” which “stated unequivocally” it would broadcast in Hebrew, instead of Arabic, which most Christians speak in the Holy Land.
Ron Cantor, GOD TV’s Israel representative, said the station will reapply, which the council said would be welcome, and hopes it will be approved “and thus avoids a severe diplomatic incident with hundreds of millions of pro-Israel evangelical Christians worldwide.”
Cantor maintained in a statement that GOD TV did not break its agreement.
"Our license, granted by the state of Israel, says in Hebrew that our target audience is the audience of Israeli viewers,” he said, according to Haaretz. “There is no stipulation whatsoever that we must target Christians. I have read the license over and over and it is very clear.”
He added that the "average Israeli is not threatened by our channel."
Cantor published a Facebook video Sunday, in which he addressed Biton at one point, saying "If I deceived you then my whole message, my whole life, everything is deceit."
GOD TV was created in the U.K. in 1995 and has expanded to a 24-hour network with its broadcasting licenses held by a Florida-based nonprofit, according to the AP.