Jews for Jesus Worker Recounts Deportation from Israel, Fights Potential Legal Precedent

Incident deeply disturbing for Messianic Jew with deep ties to country.

Jews for Jesus event in Israel. (Morning Star News via Jews for Jesus)

Jews for Jesus event in Israel. (Morning Star News via Jews for Jesus)

CAIRO, Egypt (Morning Star News) – As Barry Barnett’s plane lifted off from Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport last month, he sat torn with emotion. Over the prior two weeks the British citizen had been harassed, arrested, interrogated, locked in jail and deported from a country that he had loved deeply since childhood.

Born to a German Jewish woman who escaped the Holocaust as a girl, Barnett – who believes his faith in Jesus completes his Jewish identity – had been away from London for about a month and was happy to be returning to the safety and comfort of home. At the same time, though his faith was telling him everything would be OK, as he felt the ground underneath him getting farther away he knew there was a chance he might never see Israel again.

Still, he was filled with an unquenchable desire to continue doing that for which Israel had deported him – proclaiming Christ to his fellow Jews.

“When I got on that plane, I was sad. I really was sad, because I didn’t want to go on the plane,” Barnett said. “I really wanted to stay in Israel.”

A worker with Jews for Jesus U.K., the 50-year-old Barnett was arrested on Nov. 20 near Beer Sheva in southern Israel by immigration enforcement officers while volunteering in Jews for Jesus’ “Behold your God Israel” outreach to Israelies. The officers singled out Barnett from his Israeli counterparts and held him in jail for four days while he waited for an immigration judge to hear his case. In the end authorities told Barnett that telling others about his belief in Jesus was “illegal missionary work,” released him on a 5,000 shekel (US$1,440) bond and ordered him to leave the country by Dec. 3.

Barnett told Morning Star News that he was in turns angry, afraid, depressed and lonely during the “surreal” ordeal, but that eventually a sense of resolve that God was with him replaced all negative emotions. Now, as Jews for Jesus tries to get the deportation order rescinded, Barnett is confident that it the Ministry of Interior (MOI) will strike it down or a court will overturn it.

But he knows the stakes are high. If the deportation order stands, not only may Barnett never set foot in Israel again but, more importantly, it could set a legal precedent to limit missionary work or other forms of religious expression by foreign visitors.


On the day Barnett was arrested, he was holding up a banner with the phrase, “Jesus = Salvation” printed in Hebrew on it, along with a phone number for people to call who wanted more information. The group also went to public places and handed out leaflets.

“Some of the secular Jews and Arabs are quite open to hearing more, but it’s only a few,” Barnett said. “But when someone is open, we can have a good conversation with them and encourage them to read the New Testament.”

Barnett estimated that for every 10 to 20 people that passed by their group, one stopped and was “spiritually open to the gospel.” At the same time, members of a hard-line, anti-Christian group, Yad L’Achim, had been following members of the outreach through the Negev for days. Yad L’Achim members were doing their best, as is their custom, to cause problems between the missionaries and those talking with them.

“I remember a few days before I was arrested, I was with a team outside a shopping center in Beersheba, and we were giving out leaflets, and then Yad L’Achim came,” Barnett said. “They caused a huge fuss – shouting and screaming, and a crowd gathered.”

Eventually, Yad L’Achim caused such a problem that the Jews for Jesus team had to call police.

It was unclear who called immigration officers to the site where Barnett was arrested, but he suspects Yad L’Achim. Barnett said he wasn’t doing anything that would even vaguely justify detaining him. Members of Yad L’Achim were present in the vicinity that day, trying to block the phone number on the banner by holding another banner over it.

“There was me and three Israelis, and we were holding two banners,” Barnett said. “We were at a road junction near Beer Sheva, and we had been there for about 45 minutes, and then a big van arrived and parked near us. About six officials, we didn’t know who they were, got out and walked toward us and started asking us questions. ’

His friend told him they were from immigration. The men asked Barnett what he was doing in Beer Sheva. He told them he was holding “a banner with a message of peace and love.”

“They just said, ‘Come with us, we want to ask you more questions,’” he said. “I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I didn’t know if they had the right to do that or not, and I said, ‘I am calling the police.’ Then I started to call the police, and they said, ‘Come with us now or we’ll handcuff you.’”

Barnett was ushered into a van.

“I felt intimidated when they didn’t give me a proper reason why they were taking me away and where they were taking me to,” he said.

Barnett’s wife, Alison, wasn’t present at the arrest.  Once in the van, he was able to call the Israeli branch of Jews for Jesus, but Alison Barnett had no idea her husband had been arrested until a friend asked for his passport.

“I thought he was playing a joke,” she told Morning Star News. “He said, ‘No, Barry got arrested,’ and I said, ‘That is very funny.’ And he said, ‘No, he really has been arrested, and we need the passport.’”


The 10-minute trip to the immigration office in Omer was silent. Barnett spent the time talking on his cell phone, trying to get help.

Immigration personnel questioned Barnett in two sessions of 30 minutes each, but he said it felt more like four hours. Two men interviewed him under the supervision of five others.

“They were asking questions like, ‘What was your purpose for coming to Israel? Where were you working? What did you say to immigration when you entered the country?’” Barnett said.

The immigration officials had picked Barnett up ostensibly on grounds that observing religious duties such as missionary activities under a tourist visa is “work” and therefore illegal. Dan Sered, Israeli director for Jews for Jesus, said the deportation “was done without a real legal cause.”

“The reason for his deportation, according to the state of Israel, is because he was doing missionary activity and not regular tourist activity on a B2 tourist visa,” Sered said. “But the global ethics code for tourism, which the state of Israel signed and even advertises on its own Ministry of Tourism Web page, states that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is not only valid but also should be encouraged.”

The second questioning session, Barnett said, became very intense.

“They were intimidating me to try and make me say that I was working,” he said. “They kept saying, ‘Stop playing games,’ and they were very angry a lot of the time.”

One of the officials, who was wearing a kippah (or Yiddish, “yarmulke”), a head covering worn by observant Jews, “just lost it” and jumped from behind his desk up to Barnett’s face, Barnett said.

“He got out of his chair, came around to where I was sitting and starting bellowing in my ear in Hebrew, in fast Hebrew,” he said. “I felt scared. I just moved away from him, a few inches away from his mouth. I put my hand up to show that I was scared … I think he could have happily killed me at that point.”

The official stormed out of the room. Before another van took Barnett to a detention facility, one of three guards, whom he described as a “bully boy,” demanded his cell phone.

“They stood right over me and said, ‘Give me the phone.’ And I thought I would give it to them, because I didn’t want to be beaten up,” he said.

One of the officers laughed as he told him upon departure, “You are going to prison.”

‘Who do you say I am?’

Barnett grew up in a reformed Jewish home where he went to synagogue on a regular basis, observed Jewish holidays and went to Israel often. When he was in his 20s, he lived in Ashkelon, Israel, where he studied Hebrew and did community service activities with children.

His British father is Jewish. His mother is a “Kinder,” one of the adult survivors of a group of some 10,000 children of Jewish parents who were rescued from Europe in 1939 to save them from Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

Barnett started to believe that Jesus is the Messiah after a difficult divorce led him to seek God more deeply. His search eventually led him to read a copy of the New Testament, and he started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. To those who oppose Messianics, this fact alone means Barnett is no longer a Jew. For them, belief in Jesus eliminates one’s ethnicity, self-identity, history, ancestry and culture.

Most Israelis aren’t this extreme and treat Messianics with tolerance or view them as a curiosity. But the leaders and adherents of hard-core Orthodox sects in Israel tend to view Messianic believers as either cult victims or traitors. They call them “Christians” knowing that in light of Jewish history, this word brings up images of pogroms and death camps in the minds of many Jews – to the dismay of many Jews who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Barnett said he doesn’t mind being called a Christian, and that arguing over the label misses a bigger point – the debate among Jews shouldn’t be whether or not to call Messianics “Christians,” but whether – after examining the facts – to call Jesus “the Christ.” It is a question Jesus himself put to his disciples, and the reason members of Jews for Jesus say the organizations exists.

“Throughout history, Jewish people have been told that if you convert to Christianity, you are leaving Judaism and the Jewish people, and you are betraying them, and you are becoming a different religion and a traitor, but that is not true at all,” Barnett said. “It is not a conversion, but it is a completion – that is a really important word; it is a completion of being a Jew, because you are recognizing what is already there, which is Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. So if you stay as a Jew, you become a Messianic Jew.

“The question isn’t, ‘Can you be a Jew and believe in Yeshua?’ The question is, ‘Is Jesus the Son of God, the Savior of the world?’”


Barnett arrived at the jail at midnight the day he was arrested, having no idea what to expect.

“It was quite weird – I went through processing when we entered the prison, where they did the fingerprints and the photographs, and they asked me to take off my clothes,” he said. Officials let him keep his underwear on.

During the prior questioning he had felt indignant, but during processing, when his anger and fear should have been at their worst, faith came and melted them away, he said.

“My anger went, and I just felt resigned – not giving up – but resigned to what God was doing,” he said. “It was a bit like being outside of myself looking at the situation.”

Barnett was placed in a holding cell during processing and, after a second round of fingerprinting and a brief medical examination, moved to the main cellblock with other detainees. There was a table, a sink, six bunk beds, a squat toilet, a basic shower and 10 other prisoners.

Most of the inmates there were of either African or Asian origin and were all dealing with immigration problems like him, he said.

“They were very friendly,” he said. “They were sad and depressed and just waiting to hear about their cases, and I got on very well with them during the few days I was there.”

Meals consisted of vegetables, rice and bread. Though Barnett said he never went hungry, he did lose 12 pounds.

Barnett’s mobile phone had been confiscated because it had a camera, but some of the other detainees were allowed to keep their cell phones and let him borrow them.

“That was fantastic, you cannot imagine how good it was to speak to Alison after going through the first few hours in prison,” he said. “Alison told me a few hours into the first day, when I was already feeling vulnerable, that there were hundreds and maybe thousands of people, who were praying for me, and I just cried. I cried with relief, because I knew that I was covered and I was safe with all these lovely people praying with all their love for me.”

After being locked up for 24 hours, though, Barnett said he started to have a “crisis.” His initial sense that he would be released in a few hours or at most a day was shattered the next day when a lawyer secured by Jews for Jesus told him that the judge said he wouldn’t review his case until Sunday – four days away.

“The inmates there were saying that they had been there for weeks and months, so I was getting scared,” he said. “I really thought I could be there for a long time. I had to really trust God and hang on to him and hear him and really get courage from him. But I clung on to what I know from the Bible, how God is my refuge, He is my strength, and he loves me always and He will look after me.”

Soon after this low point, Barnett’s faith was answered. He met a pastor from Nigeria with immigration problems who happened to be in the center.

“He introduced me to five other Christians there that afternoon, and I felt so much better,” he said. “They were the only people smiling in prison. I was smiling. I felt safe. God had a plan for me and the other Christians in the prison.”

The pastor also arranged for Barnett to get a New Testament.

“I never grasped and clung to the New Testament so much and so strongly in my life,” he said. “I was so happy. I had 24 hours by now without a Bible. So, it was really great that he gave me the New Testament.”

Better yet, he said, the New Testament was in six languages – English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Russian.

“That was great, because then I realized that God is going to use that for witnessing in my cell – in my cell there was a Ukrainian who spoke Russian, and a guy spoke Arabic and another spoke French, and people spoke English,” he said. “So I used the Bible to witness in my cell, which was wonderful. Some people were interested, some really didn’t want to look at the Bible. Some were happy for me to say a short prayer for them.”

Barnett said the Christians in the center meet every day at 2 p.m. to pray. They also fast every Friday, and while there he joined them.

“The prayer time on that Friday, I really felt God encouraging me through the story of Daniel and his friends, and their trust in God with their life, and the next day was great with the other Christians as well. I was praying with them again,” he said. “I played a little chess; one of the Christian people was a chess player, so that was good. And I prayed with them again on Sunday.”

Government Treatment of Messianics

The government’s response and policies toward Messianic Jews has been less than stellar. Agencies such as the Ministry of Interior, the department that ordered the deportation of Barnett, routinely discriminate against Messianic Jews, according to the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.

“MOI officials continued to revoke citizenship or deny services (such as child registration, social benefits, identity cards, and passports) to some citizens based on their religious beliefs, according to the JIJ [Jerusalem Institute of Justice]. This included cases of individuals who immigrated under the Law of Return as Jews but were discovered to hold Messianic or Christian beliefs,” the report states.

According to the Law of Return, which regulates who can immigrate to Israel, anyone who is a Jew, the child of a Jew or the grandchild of a Jew can immigrate with their spouse and children. Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration regardless of their religious beliefs, according to the law, but officials from the Ministry of Interior routinely ignore these rules and deny entry to Jews who believe in Jesus.

“Prospective immigrants routinely face questioning about their religious beliefs to determine their qualifications for citizenship,” the State Department report states. “While Jews who are atheists or who state their adherence to other religions are conferred immigration benefits, Messianic Jews are routinely excluded, despite the Supreme Court repeatedly upholding the right of Israeli Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah to retain citizenship.”

In 2012, JIJ had to petition the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of a Jewish woman whose family had been killed in the Holocaust. They denied her request in 2011 for citizenship because she was Messianic. In July of the same year, the Ministry of the Interior rescinded its decision and granted her citizenship.

Yad L’Achim and groups like them are well connected to the Ministry of Interior, according to press reports in Israel. In a major investigative piece in 2011 by Channel One News, Yad L’Achim member Rabbi Naria admitted in a televised interview to connections between the organization and the Ministry.

“We get information about people, sometimes through the Internet, about missionary work, and we make sure this information gets to the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

In the same piece, an administrator with the Ministry of Interior confirmed the relationship to a reporter with a hidden camera.

“We turned to Yad L’Achim to find out if they had any information,” the woman said, mistakenly adding that Yad L’Achim was part of the Ministry.

In another part of the program, Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of JIJ, produced documents proving that officials at the Ministry had handed over the immigration files of one Messianic couple to Yad L’Achim for review.

Perhaps most telling, in another segment of the program, when talking about “friends” the organization has, an unnamed Yad L’Achim activist said, “At the Ministry of Interior, in the army’s elite Oz units – we are friends with them all.”

This activist has been seen at many locations where Yad L’Achim has harassed and tried to intimidate Messianic Jews. He was present at the outreach Barnett was a part of and is pictured on the Yad L’Achim website trying to block the sign held by Jews for Jesus volunteers.

The “Oz” Unit is a task force created in 2008 within the Population Authority under the Ministry of Interior. It replaced the immigration police and has arrest power only over foreigners. “Oz” is the Hebrew word for courage. It is the unit that arrested Barnett.

The Israeli court system has historically been a bastion of protection for Messianic Jews. It has come to the defense of Messianic Jews against the Ministry of Interior and against quasi-governmental religious organizations that, despite not being a direct part of the government, nevertheless wield considerable power in Israeli society.

There are approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel, according to the U.S. State Department. According to a 2011 report of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, there are 7.9 million people living in Israel, of which, 76 percent are Jews, 19 percent are Muslims, 2 percent are Christians, and the remaining 3 percent are Druze, Bahai, Samaritan or Karaite. Of the Jewish population, 9 percent said they were ultra-Orthodox, and 10 percent said Orthodox; 15 percent described themselves as “traditional and religious,” and 23 percent “traditional, not so religious;” 43 percent described themselves as “nonreligious/secular.”

The Hearing

Barnett appeared in front of a judge on Nov. 24. The hearing was conducted in Hebrew, and the judge had ordered that a lawyer for the Ministry of Interior appear – a rarity,  according to Barnett.

“It was all in Hebrew; nobody explained to me in English what was going on,” Barnett said. “Nobody asked me questions. Even the judge didn’t ask me any questions. Then half an hour later, he said, ‘That’s it’ and closed the hearing. I had to ask the lawyer as we were walking what happened.”

According to Barnett, the attorney for the Ministry of Interior was unable to give a reason for the arrest. But according to his deportation order, the Ministry expelled him for “illegal missionary activity,” though what constitutes illegal missionary activity in Israel is very specific. According to the State Department report, “Proselytizing is legal for all religious groups. A 1977 law prohibits offering a material benefit as an inducement to conversion. It is also illegal to convert a person under 18 years of age unless one parent is an adherent of the religious group seeking to convert the minor. Despite the legality of proselytism, the government generally discourages proselytizing and encourages the popular perception that it is illegal. The MOI occasionally cites proselytism as a reason to deny student, work, and religious visa extensions, as well as to deny permanent residency petitions.”

The judge did not strike the deportation order. According to Bennett, he actually didn’t have the power to do so. He set a security bond of 5,000 shekels (US$1,440) and allowed Bennett to be released as soon as the bond was posted.

Dangerous Precedent

Barnett said he still loves Israel in spite of his jail experience, but he is still angry about the deportation order.

If it stands, the deportation order means that it will be unlikely Barnett will ever set foot in Israel again. It also means he will be essentially black-listed; getting entry visas to other countries will be more difficult.

“It’s completely unjust and unfair, and it’s my country, Israel,” he said. “How dare they treat a fellow Jew that way? How dare they treat a British citizen that way? And how dare they treat an innocent man that way?  I am angry. I am angry with the enemy, the devil. That is the main anger – because he is the one trying to keep us out of Israel.”

More importantly than what happens to him, Barnett said, the deportation could be used as legal precedent to keep out other missionaries – one of the goals of Yad L’Achim.

“That’s what they are trying to do,” he said. “These people are fighting hard to keep missionaries and Christians out of Israel.”

Sered, the Israel director of Jews for Jesus, said that the branch is working to overturn the order on Barnett’s behalf.

“Our lawyers have written letters to the Ministry of Interior asking for a reversal of the expulsion order, and we are waiting for a response,” Sered said. “Right now we are still hoping that Israel will see the injustice that was caused towards Barry, and that they will reverse the expulsion order. We do not have an appeal date.”

Sered said if the order stands, the effects could be even more serious not only in terms of religious freedom in Israel, but for Christians around the world and even for the Israeli economy.

“This is important because any Christian who comes to Israel could be deported for simply expressing his faith,” he said. “For example, there are pastors who come to Israel with tour groups and preach at different religious sites. Now Israel is saying that these pastors are going against their received B2 visa and they are doing something wrong.  This might hurt tourism to Israel, not to mention that as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel should be an example of religious freedom and freedom of speech.”

Deportation orders in Israel are notoriously difficult to overturn, but Barnett said he will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court of Israel if necessary. He said he will prevail in the end.

“There was no reason to deport or to expel me; I haven’t broken the law,” he said. “I had every right to be holding a banner and to be giving out leaflets, because there is no law against that. I am confident. The lawyers are very confident that there is no real case against me.”

He added that he expected God would use the case to create greater religious freedom in Israel.

“I am absolutely confident that God will bring us back to Israel. And actually I expect that God will make this case an important case, that we’ll win, and the Jews for Jesus lawyers will win it in order to make the gateway open for Christians to come to Israel on a tourist visa and share their faith in any way that they want to.”

Sered agreed.

“I have faith in my country and in the court system,” he said. “I think that the Israeli courts will see the long-term damage that a ruling against us will have on the state of Israel.”

The most important lesson from the arrest, questioning and incarceration, Barnett said, was that he felt God through it all.

“That is the most important thing, that God is using this,” he said. “We don’t always understand what God is doing till sometimes much later or sometimes never, but I really trust God has a plan for this. It’s good to be bold, to share the gospel. I don’t think as Christians we should be afraid to share the gospel. We should be bold. A few days in prison? That’s nothing comparing to what others went through; there are others that suffered far more.”


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