Thursday, January 12, 2006
By BRIAN MURPHY, AP Religion Writer - Thu Jan 12, 9:17 PM ET
TEL AVIV, Israel - Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, right, with Israeli flag, has sent a letter apologizing for suggesting that 's massive stroke was divine punishment for pulling out of the .
Robertson's comments drew widespread condemnation from other Christian leaders, and Israeli officials, who canceled plans to include the American evangelist in the construction of a Christian tourist center in northern Israel.
In a letter dated Wednesday and marked for hand delivery to Sharon's son Omri, Robertson called the Israeli prime minister a "kind, gracious and gentle man" who was "carrying an almost insurmountable burden of making decisions for his nation."
"My concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness," the letter said. "I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel," Robertson wrote.
The 77-year-old prime minister suffered a devastating stroke Jan. 4 and remained hospitalized Thursday in critical but stable condition. The day after Sharon's stroke, Robertson suggested he was being punished for pulling Israel out of the Gaza Strip last summer. The pullout was seen by many evangelical groups as a retreat from biblical prophecy of Jewish sovereignty over the area.
"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said on his TV program "The 700 Club." "You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No, this is mine.'"
Despite the apology, it was doubtful Robertson would be brought back into the fold of the proposed Christian Heritage Center in the northern Galilee region, where tradition says Jesus lived and taught. The exclusion carries a special irony for a preacher who helped define television ministries: The planned complex is to include studios and satellite links for live broadcasts from the Holy Land.
Rami Levi, director of marketing for Israel's tourism ministry, told The Associated Press that the government remains "outraged" by Robertson's remarks.
Israel's tourism minister, Abraham Hirchson, said Wednesday that Robertson's help was no longer welcome for the proposed center.
"But, of course, we continue full engines ahead to construct it because the Christian community around the world -- the evangelical community -- are friends," said Levi, who is responsible for coordinating tourism contacts between Israeli groups and other faiths around the world.
Christian groups, particularly evangelical congregations from the United States, have become an important source of revenue and political influence. Evangelicals funnel millions of dollars each year to Jewish settlers in the and provide aid for those evicted from Gaza. They also represent an essential component of the estimated $4 billion in tourist revenue expected this year.
D.H.: Yes, it appears the tourism industry there is still singing, "What a friend we have in Jesus." And Robertson, who often says he hears from God on political matters, such as his Jan. 3, 2005, statement that God told him He was going to "replace liberal justices quickly," and such as P.M. Ariel Sharon being against "God's people" in dismantling the West Bank settlements, has now seen a different light -- the light of worldwide outrage over his insensitive comments. I notice, though, that he managed to apologize without admitting error. Quite a trick -- he may have been watching President Bush's verbal gymnastics on torture and snooping. Or, maybe it's just that God doesn't make mistakes in telling Pat what to say. Hard to know which -- when you're merely an fallible man like me.Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
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