Thursday, May 22nd, 2008
As Sen. John McCain was cutting ties to Pastor John Hagee, the controversial Christian Zionist leader whose endorsement he sought, a top Jewish leader also changed course and called for ties to Hagee’s pro-Israel group to be put on “hold,” the Jewish Week has learned.
“It’s now necessary for us to look at the totality of (Hagee’s) views, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a Jewish Week interview on Thursday. In the past Foxman has defended the growing nexus of relations between Jewish and pro-Israel groups and Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Hagee has “started to deal with some of the issues” raised by his controversial books and sermons, which deal extensively with Biblical prophecy and the role of Israel and the Jews, “but not in a satisfactory manner; it’s not quick enough and not sufficient,” Foxman said.
The latest Hagee eruption started with newly surfaced audio tapes of a sermon in the late 1990s in which the CUFI leader, citing Jeremiah, likened Adolf Hitler to a “hunter” sent by God to force creation of a Jewish state.
“A hunter is someone with a gun, and he forces you,” Hagee said. “Hitler was a hunter. . . . How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, ‘my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’”
Last year, the Jewish Week reported on statements in Hagee’s books that the Jews’ “disobedience and rebellion” were in part responsible for “the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day… Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come.”
After announcing Hagee’s endorsement in February, the presumptive GOP nominee faced growing pressure to repudiate the megachurch minister, first from a Catholic civil rights group which expressed concerns about some of Hagee’s pronouncements about the Church, and gay groups, upset about Hagee’s statement that Hurricane Katrina was, in part, God’s judgment on New Orleans because of its tolerance of gays and lesbians.
But major Jewish leaders – with the exception of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism – were mostly silent, in part because of the political support for Israel Hagee was seen as able to mobilize, in part because of the millions of dollars he has raised for the Jewish state.
Hagee was a keynote speaker at last year’s policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an honor that has helped insulate him from criticism from pro-Israel leaders.
In a letter to Hagee this week, Yoffie said “to blame the victims for the Holocaust and to suggest that they brought it on themselves is a desecration of their name and their memory, and an insult to the survivors and their descendents who thankfully remain in our midst today,”
While earlier revelations prompted McCain to say only that he rejected some of Hagee’s views, the newly revealed tapes led the lawmaker to sever ties with the controversial pastor.
“Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” McCain said in a statement on Thursday. “I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”
Hagee, minutes before McCain repudiated his endorsement, said his views were “grossly” misrepresented.
“I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues,” he said. “I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for President effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign.”
A big question mark in the wake of the controversy: what will it mean for relations between CUFI, Hagee’s pro-Israel group, and the Jewish groups that have been expanding ties to it?
Foxman’s statement that relations should be put on “hold” could represent a turning point in those relations, several veteran Jewish observers said this week.
His big financial contributions to Israel, Foxman said, “do not vitiate and cleanse” Hagee. “Pastor Hagee is entitled to support Israel from any perspective he wants. But his comments damage his relationship with the Jewish community.”
It will also be harder for Jewish leaders to ignore Hagee’s apocalyptic writings when John McCain himself deemed his sermon remarks about Hitler “crazy and unacceptable.”
Also unclear: has Sen. Joe Lieberman, a top McCain supporter who last year likened Hagee to Moses at the CUFI gala in Washington, had a change of heart about the preacher?
A Lieberman spokesman said the senator was traveling this week and so is unavailable for comment.
McCain also cut ties with the Rev. Rod Parsley, whose anti-Islam sermons have stirred controversy.