Interview: Flavia Sevald, Jerusalem Institute of Justice
Here on The Friends of Israel Today, we spend a great deal of time teaching and promoting all things Israel! And this week we want to introduce you to a unique organization in Israel that is working hard to promote human & civil rights through legal & advocacy tools not only in Israel but around the world. The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) works hard to ensure every life in Israel is treated with dignity. Today we’ll hear from Flavia Sevald, the CEO of JIJ.
Flavia will share with us the important and life-saving ways JIJ is working in Jerusalem. With only a small staff of lawyers and researchers, JIJ has taken the Israeli government to court on important matters that involve churches and other houses of worship. They are actively trying to hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for indoctrinating hate and promoting terrorism to their own children. They are also helping Israeli’s who are dealing with injustice by representing them in the courts. And the amazing part? They are doing it for free!
Why should matters of justice in Israel matter to Christians? Because justice matters to God!
We were moved by Flavia’s interview and we hope you will be too. If you would like to help JIJ and other important groups in Israel, you can donate to our Israel Relief Fund.
To learn more about the Jerusalem Institute of Justice you can visit their website here: https://jij.org/ .
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher Chris Katulka. Recently, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said, and I quote, "Modern Israel is the only true free nation throughout the entire Middle East. No country is perfect but Israel, like America, holds itself to an incredibly high standard. Israel is a majority Jewish nation, but the government doesn't force Jewish beliefs on others."
Steve Conover: Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is right, Israel is a democracy. Like any democracy there are issues of justice and injustice that need to be addressed.
Chris Katulka: We're going to address those issues today, Steve. Today we're going to have on the program, Flavia Sevald who is the CEO of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and she's going to be talking about the work that she's doing in the area of discrimination towards religious minorities in Israel, like Evangelical Christians and other religious minorities.
Chris Katulka: Flavia has been working together with Knesset members and the Israeli government along with the nonprofit world to create social reforms to benefit all Israeli citizens. This is really, I believe, going to be an enlightening conversation for our listeners.
Steve Conover: We look forward to that, but first in the news in June, the United States brought together many Arab Muslim countries and Israel during an economic workshop in Bahrain. The workshop was called Peace To Prosperity. It sought to pave a new path toward peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The summit was the first major step toward peace offered by the Trump administration.
Steve Conover: In a major step during the summit, Bahrain's foreign minister recognized the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Middle East and to their land saying, and I quote, "Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region. The Jewish people have a place amongst us." Sadly, the Palestinians refuse to participate.
Chris Katulka: It is sad that they refuse to participate, and here's my take. Really, there's a thawing going on right now. It's a slow thawing in the relationship between the Muslim countries and Israel. A lot of the stalling actually has to do with the fact that President Obama created the Iran deal. The Iran deal was a predominantly a Shiite issue and so many of the Sunni Muslim countries are actually aligning themselves in some capacity with Israel.
Chris Katulka: Again, this isn't like a major thought. There's no diplomatic relations being created or a peace deal on the horizon. However, Gulf states like Bahrain who were once very anti-Israel, are inviting Israelis and other Muslim countries together to hash out the Palestinian Israeli issue. I'm going to tell you, this is a big step to hear the foreign minister say this is a big step to recognize the state of Israel.
Chris Katulka: However, the Palestinians, once again, let me just say this, they once again missed an opportunity to be diplomatic and they missed an opportunity to have their voices heard, which doesn't bode well for their relationship with Israel, their relationship with the United States or these Muslim countries.
Chris Katulka: Flavia, great to have you with us.
Flavia Sevald: Thank you for having us. Shalom to all.
Chris Katulka: You're coming from Israel, right?
Flavia Sevald: Yes. I live in Israel, in Jerusalem, our lovely, beautiful capital.
Chris Katulka: It is a lovely, beautiful capital. I just came back from it and we had a wonderful time over there. I get excited every time I'm in Jerusalem. We're going to be talking about something that's near and dear to your heart, which is the issue of justice, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice. Can you share a little bit about the mission and vision of JIJ?
Flavia Sevald: Yes, our vision is really to pursue justice in Israel and for Israel using legal tools that we have the possibility to use expertise to advocate for freedom of religion, human rights, civil rights in Israel and in the Middle East. We want to promote those minorities that really are suffering from discrimination in the area. At the same time, we want to promote the legitimacy of the state of Israel as a nation among the nations, through our legal international department.
Chris Katulka: This concept of freedom of religion, you know, rights for all the people of Israel. This goes back to the founding of the state of Israel. I remember reading this in the declaration of independence. Isn't that where its origins come from?
Flavia Sevald: Absolutely. Our declaration of independence, like the American declaration is based on Judeo Christian principles of equality and freedoms. Those principles are also international principles that were also accepted. For example, in the international declaration of Human Rights.
Flavia Sevald: You want to have freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of worship, political freedoms, and the freedom of speech. Those are the basis of a democracy. Israel is a strong democracy, so that is what allowed us to use legal tools if there are discriminations or inequalities under Israeli law.
Chris Katulka: Now we get into what JIJ does. I have to ask you a question because it's on your website and I think it's a real issue that Israel's dealing with today. You say on your website, we believe that a state that is both Jewish and democratic is not contradictory but an attainable reality. There is attention today, isn't there? How can we be a Jewish state and a democracy? Can you flesh that out and then we'll jump into what JIJ is doing.
Flavia Sevald: Yes, and we are a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people. We are a nation that was formed as a consequence of the holocaust of the II World War. We as Jewish people needed a nation, a place where to go and be safe. Now, every Jew from all the nations can come to Israel and immediately receive citizenship because that is the land that is safeguarding the Jewish nation.
Flavia Sevald: At the same time, and equally important is the principle of democracy, where there is plurality and where everybody is equal under the law, and this is exactly what we are as a nation, we're a strong democracy. We have separation of power, we have a strong judicial system and peoples of many cultures; Jews, Arabs, Druze and so on, live together in equality.
Chris Katulka: For JIJ, for the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, can you talk about some of the work that you've done to bring justice for those who are dealing with issues of inequality of discrimination? Can you share a little bit about that?
Flavia Sevald: Yes, absolutely. We believe that we need to pursue justice. Some minorities in Israel need that legal defense. Therefore, we provide free legal representation to religious minorities that need additional help to receive their rights. At the same time, we help them to oblige with all the obligations that they have under Israeli law. In a way our free legal defense, is helping the Christian minorities establish their lives in Israel and be an integral part of Israeli society.
Chris Katulka: Which it should be, right. Can you share some of the cases that you've had? We just had a meeting earlier and we had a chance to hear you talk, and some of the cases that you were talking about were so intriguing for our listeners. Can you maybe some of the ones that would make them excited as well?
Flavia Sevald: Absolutely. As a Jewish majority in Israel, of course we have a majority of synagogues as our houses of prayer. Our synagogues receive as a house of prayer, 100% tax exemption. Unfortunately it was that same 100% tax exemption on property tax wasn't applied to Christian houses of prayer. We saw that was discriminatory and we took the government to court to bring that issue to light.
Flavia Sevald: Fortunately, the Supreme Court in Israel decided on our side and asked the Knesset, which is the legislator of Israel to change the law in such a way that it would apply to all houses of prayer, including of course Christian houses of prayer. That's saving millions of dollars per year to the Christian body to apply their funds to the services that they give instead of on property tax.
Chris Katulka: This is major. In America, the idea of a church, a synagogue, a mosque receiving tax exemption, that's almost a given in our culture. But in Israel, that was not a given. That wasn't a standard way of looking at things. Through JIJ, through the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, you've been able to bring awareness and even change the law. Is that what you would say? You changed the law and providing tax exemption status for churches and other houses of worship as well?
Flavia Sevald: Yes. Somebody has to advocate. Sometimes you advocate case per case, but sometimes you advocate for the general public. Those are those cases like in the Supreme Court of Israel where they affect the whole community. That's the idea. You want to swat mosquitoes or dry the swamp. We try to do both. As much as we can, it is part of the advocacy.
Chris Katulka: You helped, if you think about it, providing tax exemption status helps a pastor in Israel. Wouldn't you say that? It helps that person maybe with a salary or hiring another pastor or doing ministry in Israel. Wouldn't you say so?
Flavia Sevald: It's a way to grow the community and unburdening the community to expand their services so they can give another service to their community, add another personnel in their offices or rent a bigger place, and so on. This is important because the community there is of poor means. So, any dollar helps.
Chris Katulka: Let's move to more, some of the laws of Israel. I'm sure a lot of our listeners might be surprised to hear that prior to December 31st, 2018, prostitution was legal in Israel. But JIJ has something to say about that, doesn't it? Would you like to share?
Flavia Sevald: Absolutely. We believe that prostitution and human trafficking have to be eradicated. It's our responsibility as just civilians and just as God loving people to care about each other. In the Bible we hear, to take care of the widows, take care of the poor, take care of the stranger in the land. So, why not look at those that are victimized in society and say, what can we do about them?
One thing that we could do as a legal and advocacy organization is promote changes in the law that will bring that relieve. One of the things that we did 10 years ago, we started a campaign to make the buying of sex prohibited. We couldn't do it alone. So, we created a coalition of organizations, Israeli organizations that would lobby together and create public awareness as a way of putting pressure on the Knesset, on the legislator to change those laws.
We brought these laws, we also created awareness. 10 years later on December 31st, 2018, the Knesset passed the bill-
Chris Katulka: Praise God.
Flavia Sevald: Yes, that prohibit the buying of sex services, charging a fine, big fine to those that actually want to go forth and do that. Additional to that, we secured $30 million for the rehabilitation of those coming out of the sex trade. As a way of really bringing them out of the streets and restoring their lives. That was for us, a real miracle after working for 10 years.
Chris Katulka: Yes. When I heard you say that, I just wanted to stand up and clap. That is such real tangible work that the Jerusalem Institute of Justice is doing to help the people of Israel, to help the minorities, to help the hurting.
For my listeners, we're speaking with Flavia Sevald who's the CEO of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and we're going to just take a brief little break. Be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: When many of us think of Israel, we think of the land of the Bible. Maybe you've had the privilege of touring the land and to walk where Jesus walked. But what some may not realize is in the midst of the beauty of Israel and growing democracy, the people of Israel struggle day to day in the land. While enjoying many of the freedoms we do here in North America. They are also a young country with enemies on all sides.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. That's why we developed the Israel Relief Fund here at the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. Through your donations, bomb shelters have been placed in Israel's dangerous areas, babies and their mothers are being cared for. Many men and women who are trapped in the lives of drug addiction and prostitution are finding freedom at a holistic drug and treatment center in Tel Aviv. Like we're hearing today with JIJ, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, the religious minorities in Israel are being defended.
Steve Conover: You can donate to the Israel Relief Fund and be part of tangibly helping the Jewish people when you go to foiradio.org, or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. You can send your donation by mail to the Friends of Israel Today, P.O Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's The Friends of Israel Today, P.O Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. This is your opportunity to give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus to our Jewish friends.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everybody. We are speaking with Flavia Sevald, who is the CEO of Jerusalem Institute of Justice. You provide pro bono work, free work. I love what you said. In Israel when you say free, sometimes you were telling us earlier in our meeting that that doesn't register, the connection isn't made. Is that right when you say free work?
Flavia Sevald: Absolutely. We don't see many lawyers giving free legal aid and having an organization that is dedicated to giving free legal aid for religious minorities. That is unusual. Sometimes we repeat it and sometimes when our clients come they say, is it really free or is it the first consultation free or so on? But it's completely free the whole process. It is educating or going to courts.
Chris Katulka: Flavia, we've been talking about Israelis, but you're not just dealing with Israeli citizens. You're talking about Israel as a nation and also dealing with the inhumane practices happening within the Palestinian community as well. Can you share a little bit about that?
Flavia Sevald: Yes. We asked ourselves as a legal organization, we see injustices happening and then nobody's talking about those hidden injustices. We as an Israeli organization, our lawyers can't go and help in the Palestinian territories or under the Palestinian authorities.
When we saw those injustices happening in those territories that are governed by the Palestinian authorities, we saw, well, we can do research, we can write reports, we can go to international courts and bodies and show that information and those testimonies to them.
We have a team of researchers from all over the world, those interns that come, different interns per year for different periods of time that dedicate their time and their intellect to investigate, write legal documents and complaints to the, for example, the International Criminal Court.
We presented communication against the head of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that leads in the Gaza Strip, for war crimes they committed against Palestinian children by militarizing them, using them as human shields, using them for war. Children under the age of 15, from the age of three, they're being indoctrinated towards being terrorists.
Chris Katulka: You're literally helping bring awareness not only to what's going on in the Palestinian communities, but you're taking that information and you're bringing it to international-
Flavia Sevald: The International Criminal Court.
Chris Katulka: That's right. You brought it to the EU. Is that right as well?
Flavia Sevald: As well. We write not only big legal complaints but also memos and reports that are presented to the EU, especially regarding the funding and the double standards. The EU considers Hamas as a terrorist organization and yet funding is coming from the EU to Hamas, which is the leading terrorist organization in Gaza.
Flavia Sevald: So, there is a lot of double standing that has to be attended to and maybe then the funding will change to actually help the Palestinian people, and not those bodies that are trying to abuse their rights.
Chris Katulka: Yes. Because when you look at Biblical justice, Biblical justice in my opinion, it talks about the people of the land, but it also supposed to spread to everybody. Everybody when it comes to biblical justice benefits under the justice that comes from the-
Flavia Sevald: especially, since in Genesis, we have, God created us all in His image. It doesn't matter if you're Jewish or Arab or Arab Muslim or Christian or whatever it is, God loves you the same. As people that care about people, and our slogan is a heart for justice, a voice for people. We have to be a voice for those that are suffering and especially those that are around us are suffering. This is what we're trying to do.
Chris Katulka: One of my favorite verses is Micah, Chapter four. It's the image of Jerusalem being set up high and justice flows out from Jerusalem into the nations. I really think that for us, that picture is when Jesus, the Messiah comes. But there are pictures of it coming, and we believe that that is something that JIJ is doing. Just sharing the justice that comes from a biblical standard, which is fantastic. We thank you for the work that you're doing there.
What's number one, one thing you want to leave with our listeners when it comes to the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and how can they get involved?
Flavia Sevald: Thank you, yes. We want you to remember that it's important for all of us to sow into justice. We do it through free legal aid to religious minorities in Israel and advancing freedom of religion and conscience. Through doing that, we strengthen the fabric of Israeli society. We ask you to get involved and sow into justice.
Flavia Sevald: You can connect with us through our website, jij.org. There, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and follow us, also sign up for our newsletters. If it's in your heart, also donate to the JIJ.
Chris Katulka: Awesome. That's jij.org. Jij.org. Flavia, thank you so much for being with us today. It's a pleasure to have you in studio. For my listeners, be sure to go to jij.org and there you can find out more information about the Jerusalem Institute of Justice. There, you can find out how to support them as well right there on their website.
If you're listening and you're thinking, man, I would love to do an internship with them. To find out information about that. Again, it's jij.org. Flavia, thank you again and it was a blessing to have you in our studio.
Flavia Sevald: Thank you so much and it was a blessing for us and it's an honor to be here.
Chris Katulka: Praise the Lord.
Steve Conover: We're glad you joined us today and thanks to Flavia Sevald for being on the program. If you would like to learn more about the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, visit jij.org. That's jij.org.
Chris Katulka: I think today's discussion was a really important one, to understand that Israel is a thriving democracy, but like any democracy, they have issues. The Jewish majority isn't the only one who benefits from the justice system. That's the beauty of what Israel is. The justice system also benefits the minorities and I love the work that JIJ is doing to bring justice to those minorities and to help them, all the people of Israel, all the citizens of Israel.
If you want to support programs like JIJ, like Magen David Atom, which is Israel's National Emergency Medical Disaster and Ambulance Service, or Operation Life Shield, which provides bomb shelters for those Israelis who live in dangerous areas. I want to encourage you to give to our Israel Relief Fund. The Friends of Israel's, Israel Relief Fund. It's through that program that you can help support many different ministries.
I want to encourage you, if you feel called to do this, make your checkout to the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and write in the memo line, just write the Israel Relief Fund. Any donation that you give will be a blessing to many different ministries all throughout Israel.
Steve Conover: Thank you, Chris. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. You can contact us at (800) 345-8461, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM eastern standard time. Again, that's (800) 345-8461, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM eastern standard time.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong, and I'm Steve Conover, Executive Producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating Biblical truth About Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
Israel Relief Fund
In the midst of the beauty of Israel, and growing democracy the people of Israel struggle day-to-day in the land. While enjoying many of the freedoms we do here in North America, they are also a young country with enemies on all sides.
Through generous gifts like yours, bomb shelters have been placed in Israel’s dangerous areas. ambulances and medical products for Israel’s only blood donation center have been purchased. You can make a difference today!
About Our Guest
Flavia Sevald has served as CEO of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice since 2014. Flavia is originally from Uruguay and has lived in Israel for more than 30 years. Before joining JIJ, she pursued a successful career in the High-Tech industry. Under Flavia’s leadership, JIJ’s activities have developed in Israel and internationally. Flavia has been working together with Knesset Members and the Israeli Government along with the non-profit world to create social reforms for the benefit of Israeli citizens nationwide. Flavia’s inclusiveness of others is a positive example of servant leadership and promotes the growth of a strong team. She believes bettering society is possible through changing lives, one person at a time.
Again, to learn more about the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, please visit https://jij.org/.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.