Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
James Besser in Washington
So will the exchange of make-nice letters between ADL chief Abe Foxman and Pastor John Hagee tamp down the controversy swirling around the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) leader once an for all?
Don’t bet on it; while Hagee seems to be winning growing support from top Jewish leaders, or at least acceptance of his sincerity as a supporter of the Jewish state, critics are unrelenting, and bloggers keep turning up new material mined from Hagee’s sermons guaranteed to make some Jews uneasy.
Last week Foxman responded to a Hagee letter about the pastor’s comments in a sermon suggesting that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to help bring the Jews back to Israel.
“In a sermon in 1999, I grappled with the vexing question of why a loving God would allow the evil of the Holocaust to occur,” Hagee explained in his letter to ADL. “I know how sensitive the issue of the Holocaust is and should be to the Jewish community and I regret if my Jewish friends felt any pain as a result.’”
Foxman responded with thanks.
“We are grateful that you have devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel,” he wrote. “We wholeheartedly support your efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism, including its historic antecedents in the Christian community. We especially appreciate your extraordinary efforts to rally so many in the Christian community to stand with Israel.”
Foxman said ADL leaders “look forward to meeting with you to promote a dialogue between Christians and Jews based on mutual respect, reconciliation and the recognition of God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people.”
(Read both letters here)
A leading Jewish critic brushed off Foxman’s words.
“Hagee’s apology is meaningless and Foxman is not forgiving Hagee’s true offense — his thought process,” said Rabbi Haim Beliak, co-director of JewsOnFirst.Org, a Web site that criticizes the domestic and foreign policy activism of the Christian right. “Hagee has made it clear that he still believes that God is a cosmic bell boy who doles out punishment to whomever Hagee sees as an offensive sinner. He’s just promised to tone down his statements.”
And blogger Bruce Wilson, a relentless Hagee critic, said Hagee wasn’t exactly telling the truth when he said the sermon in question dated from 1999.
“Hagee’s ‘God sent Hitler’ sermon, the actual source of the controversy, was in fact given in late 2005,” he wrote in the Huffington Post this week. “In short, despite Pastor John Hagee’s claims to the contrary, his ‘God sent Hitler’ sermon was anything but ‘historic’. It was shockingly contemporary.”
And Hagee’s ministry organization continues to sell tapes of the sermon, he said.
Wilson also dug up a 2003 Hagee sermon “heavily loaded with anti-Jewish themes, stereotypes, slurs and conspiracy theories,” the blogger wrote, including allegations about international banking cabals controlled by the Rothschilds.
There is also grumbling about Hagee coming fro Israel.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Knesset member Colette Avital referred to Hagee’s Hitler sermon.
“The outrageous statement by Reverend John Hagee, an evangelist who disseminates his opinions not only in his church in Texas, but also through popular television broadcasts, is an example of extremist views that are being ignored by those who laud the support Israel gets from evangelicals,” she wrote.
But anti-Hagee forces appear to be preaching to the choir; among major Jewish leaders, only Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has been critical.
And efforts by anti-Hagee groups to convince Sen. Joe Lieberman to cancel his appearance as keynote speaker at Hagee’s upcoming Washington conference have been unsuccessful.
Why is Hagee gaining ground?
“People don’t deny he writes this conspiracy stuff, but they see it as just kooky,” said a prominent pro-Israel activist who said he has reservations about the expanding relationship with Hagee and his pro-Israel organization. “So it’s easy to discount his conspiracy theories and his books about the apocalypse, and just welcome his support for Israel. People are able to separate the two.”
“Jewish leaders believe he has repented for what he has said, and that he is now trying to deal sensitively with the Jewish community,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. “Having said that, there is a fundamental Jewish principle that says: give him honor, but be careful. Respect that the person has changed his mind, but keep your guard up.”