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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lieberman will speak to controversial pro-Israel group


By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman will speak to a pro-Israel group this summer whose leader, the Rev. John C. Hagee, has said Hitler was sent by God to force European Jews to move to Israel.
After the words from a decade-old sermon came to light, U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate for president and an ally of Lieberman’s, rejected Hagee’s endorsement.
Hagee and his group, Christians United for Israel, are fierce supporters of the Jewish homeland and opponents of anti-Semitism.
Hagee maintains that God gave Israel to the Jews in biblical times, and that the nation should not give up any land for peace with the Palestinians and other Arabs.
Lieberman, an independent senator from Connecticut who also addressed CUFI last year, will speak at its 2008 Israel Summit in Washington July 22.
In the controversial sermon, Hagee said Zionist leader Theodore Herzl wanted Jews to move to Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, but few did so.
Referring to the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, Hagee said, “Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. …
“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.”
Hagee also has called the Roman Catholic Church “the great whore,” and has said God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for a planned gay parade.
Lieberman has allied himself with McCain, chiefly over support for the war in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
On Wednesday, Lieberman said Hagee’s support for Israel overshadowed his controversial theology.
“I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful. I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works,” Lieberman said.
Noting that Hagee “has devoted much of his life to fighting anti-Semitism and building bridges between Christians and Jews,” Lieberman said, “I will go to the CUFI Summit in July and speak to the people who have come to Washington from all over our country to express their support of America and Israel.
“At that conference, I will also make it clear that it is imperative that our language is always respectful and tolerant of all of our fellow citizens,” Lieberman said.
New Haven-area Jewish leaders were divided on whether Lieberman should keep his speaking date with CUFI, though none of those interviewed said they believed Hitler was a divine agent sent to help populate the Promised Land.
Sydney Perry, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, said, “I find it close to obscene to suggest that God’s divine providence had a plan that included 6 million innocents being murdered.”
Perry traveled last month to concentration camps in Poland and then to Israel to celebrate the nation’s 60th anniversary.
A friend of Lieberman’s, Perry said, “In the end, I think he probably won’t go.”
Another local Jewish leader, who knows Lieberman but did not want to be named, said of Hagee, “I personally do not trust people who say hateful things about Israel on one side of their mouth, and then support Israel on the other side of (their) mouth.”
He said he doesn’t understand Hagee’s support from the Jewish community. “As an American Jew, I don’t fear American support of Israel,” saying there is as much a chance of the United States turning on its ally as there is of it spurning Canada.
Others were more understanding of Lieberman’s decision. Jay Sokolow, president of Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel in the Westville section, said he is uneasy about the Christian right’s motives, but wouldn’t condemn Hagee either.
“I see a distinction there between saying I can accept their support for Israel, but I don’t have to endorse their other positions by doing so.”
Hagee has denied accusations that he supports Israel because of a belief that the Second Coming of Jesus hinges on Jews returning to their homeland.
Rabbi Yossi Yaffe of Chabad of the Shoreline in Branford had no qualms about Lieberman speaking to CUFI. “God bless him! It’s wonderful! It’s great!” he said.
Yaffe said it’s not necessary to agree with all of someone’s beliefs to support the good work they do.
“There’s a shared principle here: the belief that God promised to the Jewish people the land of Israel, and that’s in the Bible. … These people are friends of the Jewish people and of the Jewish faith.”
On his Web site, Hagee condemned critics who imply “that I in any way condone the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler.”
He said that after World War II, many abandoned their faith, “but I and many millions of Christians and Jews came to a different conclusion. We maintained our faith in a sovereign God who allows both the good and the evil that is in the world. … But our search for an explanation for evil must never be confused with an effort to excuse it.”
Ed Stannard can be reached at estannard@nhregister.com or 789-5743.

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