Israeli leader halts bill against Christian proselytizing

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said he would prevent the passage of a proposal by a powerful ally in his governing coalition to punish Christian proselytizing with jail time.

The proposal had raised an uproar with evangelical Christians — one of Israel’s strongest and most influential supporters in the United States.

The bill was introduced in January by a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers, including Moshe Gafni, who heads the parliament’s Finance Committee. It says soliciting someone to convert their faith should be punishable by one year in prison and solicitation to convert a minor would be punishable with a two-year sentence.

“Recently, the attempts of missionary groups, mainly Christians, to solicit conversion of religion have increased,” it said.

The bill was never advanced, but it drew widespread attention in the American evangelical world this week after All Israel News, an evangelical news site, reported on it.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu announced on Twitter: “We will not advance any law against the Christian community.”

Gafni said he had introduced the bill as a procedural matter, as he has done in the past, and there were no plans to advance it.

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