Note: J Street has responded with an apology and explanation. See the updates to this post below.
It’s not hard to find examples of inflammatory rhetoric from Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee. All you have to do is listen to his sermons, read his books or, for the more lazy among us, do a quick Google search. J Street, the new dovish Israel lobby, dug up a few of Hagee’s greatest hits for the YouTube video that it’s circulating as the centerpiece of its campaign scolding Senator Joseph Lieberman for his embrace of the controversial pastor.
Given that there is no shortage of material to work with, it’s particularly strange that J Street would throw in a sound bite that seems to be the product of incredibly misleading editing.
At exactly 37 seconds into the following J Street video, you can hear Hagee say: “Islam is a doctrine of death.”
The problem is that this snippet omits a single — and quite significant — word. In a 2006 sermon at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Hagee said that “Radical Islam is a doctrine of death.” (Emphasis is mine.)
You can hear Hagee’s exact words at 8:33 into the following video (be forewarned, the images that illustrate the video are incredibly gruesome):
This sermon appears to be the source of the sound bite featured in J Street’s video. Indeed, you can even hear a trace of the final syllable of the word “radical” at the beginning of J Street’s excerpt.
Omitting the word “radical,” of course, changes what would seem to be an entirely reasonable statement into evidence that Hagee is anti-Muslim. Whether this is the result of malice or simply of incredible sloppiness — or incredibly sloppy maliciousness — is another question.
The irony here is that there is a case to be made that Hagee is broadly (and theologically) hostile to Islam, and it’s a case that doesn’t require misleading sound-editing to make. While Hagee often specifies that his critiques are specific to “radical Islam,” he isn’t always so judicious in his words. Indeed, in the very same sermon, Hagee places the problem of terrorism and extremism in the context of a larger historical struggle between “Judeo-Christianity” and Islam. And he attributes the turmoil in the Middle East, not simply to present-day extremist groups, but rather to “a 4,000-year-old family feud that will eventually lead to the battle of Armageddon,” pointing to the biblical rift involving Ishmael, whose descendants, the pastor explains, “became the Arabian nation, the Arab nation, and in time evolved to have a theology of Allah and Islam.”
There’s plenty more where that came from — just in that single sermon. That’s what makes J Street’s resort to this distorted sound bite so puzzling.
UPDATE: The J Street video has been removed from YouTube and J Street’s Web site (as of the evening of Monday June 2).
UPDATE II: J Street has now uploaded a new version of its video with the snippet in question removed. J Street’s online campaigns director, Isaac Luria, has posted a comment to this post explaining that the omission of the word “radical” was the result of an editing error. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of this post to read his full explanation. (Updated at 10:00 p.m. on June 2.)