Precedent-Setting Ruling Allows School to Break Rental Contract with Missionaries
A Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court has rejected a petition by missionaries asking that a school in Netanya be forced to honor a rental agreement with them and to pay them NIS 108,000 in damages and aggravation for breaking the agreement.
The judge also ordered the missionaries to pay court costs.
The missionaries, hiding behind the innocuous-sounding name Hamitzpeh l’Yisrael, rented classrooms from the Raziel school in Netanya during after-school hours. Shortly after signing the agreement, the school administration learned that the organization was a front for the J’s Witness cult and cancelled the contract.
The missionaries petitioned the court demanding that the school be forced to honor the agreement and compensate it to the tune of NIS 108,000.
In his verdict, the judge roundly rejected the petition, saying “there can be no doubt” that had the school known beforehand that the renter represented a missionary group “no agreement would have been signed.”
Addressing the core issue that led the school to cancel the contract, the judge proved that the indisputable missionary character of the organization “undermines any basis for its demand that it be allowed to conduct its activities on the school’s grounds.”
The judge based his ruling on the law prohibiting missionary activity among minors that is punishable by imprisonment. “The school grounds are not empty in the afternoon and evening,” the judge wrote. “Children are there for a variety of after-school activities.” Therefore, the very holding of missionary activities in one of the classrooms constitutes a gross violation of the law, he determined.
Attorney Moshe Morgenstern, of Yad L’Achim, hailed the ruling as precedent-setting. “Yad L’Achim has on many occasions filed complaints with the police over crimes involving missionary activities aimed at minors and involving financial inducements only to have them rejected on unfounded grounds. Our appeals to the court have likewise been rejected, apparently to avoid handling a hot potato.
“They have chosen to ignore the law, rather than enforce it, to avoid conflict with powerful missionary groups that have international connections and very deep economic pockets.”
Against this backdrop of disappointment in and frustration with the judiciary, Morgenstern expressed the hope that the recent ruling will serve as a precedent and persuade law-enforcement agencies to treat clauses in the penal code relating to missionary activity to the full extent of the law.
Morgenstern concluded: “It is my hope, and that of Yad L’Achim, that just as one judge saw fit to utilize this clause in the law to prevent a missionary organization from renting a school building, where students circulate freely and could be targeted for conversion, so too will all the law enforcement agencies limit the freedom of activity that is granted the various missionary organizations operating in Israel.”