WASHINGTON — The White House sharply criticized Christian broadcaster and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson on Friday for suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.”
“Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said as President Bush traveled to Chicago for a speech.
Robertson, who has a history of controversial statements, made his comments about Israel and Sharon on his TV program, “The 700 Club.” He said, “God considers this land to be his. 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.”’
Sharon, who ordered Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last year, suffered a severe stroke on Wednesday. He has been campaigning for a March 28 election on a pledge to give up some occupied West Bank land as a way to end decades of conflict with the Palestinians.
"The 700 Club" has about 1 million viewers daily. The program airs on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which Robertson founded
Robertson calls Sharon 'a good friend'
In the broadcast, the evangelist said he had personally prayed about a year ago with Sharon, whom he called “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend.” He said he was sad to see Sharon in this condition.
Robertson also said, however, that in the Bible, the prophet Joel “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.”’
Sharon “was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America,” Robertson said.
Many of Israel’s 245,000 West Bank settlers, backed by right-wing Israelis and conservative Christians worldwide, view the West Bank as the Land of Israel which God promised the Jews in the Bible.
Israel occupied the West Bank, now home to 2.4 million Palestinians, in the 1967 Middle East war and began settling Jews in the territory. Sharon’s pullout plans had the support of Bush and other world leaders.
In discussing what he said was God’s insistence that Israel not be divided, Robertson also referred to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had sought to achieve peace by giving land to the Palestinians. “It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead,” he said.
Remarks widely criticized
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. Robertson made similar comments as the Gaza withdrawal occurred, it said.
“It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel’s leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the group, which fights anti-Semitism. “His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don’t see God as cruel and vengeful.”
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life.”
“Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda,” Lynn said in a statement.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, joined in the criticism, calling Robert’s remark “completely outrageous, insulting and inappropriate.”
Sharon “is fighting for his life. He and his family deserve our thoughts and prayers, and I hope Mr. Robertson will offer them after he apologizes,” Reid said.
Robertson sought but failed to win the Republican nomination for president in 1988.
Standing by his comments
Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts said of critics who challenged his remarks, “What they’re basically saying is, ‘How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?”’
“This is what the word of God says,” Watts said. “This is nothing new to the Christian community.”
In August, Robertson suggested on “The 700 Club” that American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long been at odds with U.S. foreign policy. Robertson later apologized for his remarks, saying he “spoke in frustration.”
In November, he addressed residents of a Pennsylvania town who ousted school board members who had advocated the teaching of “intelligent design” — the belief that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power — as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God,” he said. “You just rejected him from your city.”
He later said he was simply trying to point out that “our spiritual actions have consequences.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.