Washington — Controversial evangelical leader Pastor John Hagee did not attend this week’s annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but the continuing support he enjoys within the pro-Israel community was nevertheless on display.
Just two weeks ago, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement due to the pastor’s past controversial comments about the Holocaust and the Catholic Church. But in a closed-door, off-the-record session at the Aipac conference devoted to the topic of evangelical support for Israel, there was plenty of enthusiasm for the embattled pastor among those who crowded into a Washington Convention Center meeting room.
Speakers at the session, titled “Friends in Faith: Evangelical Christians and the Pro-Israel Movement,” included Gary Bauer, president of American Values; John Buhler, founder of Christian Advocates for Israel; and David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, the group led by Hagee.
“I want to take a moment to discuss with you a good man, evangelical pastor John Hagee,” Brog said to the audience. Before Brog could finish the sentence, the crowd broke into a lengthy round of applause, ending in a standing ovation. Among the few attendees who did not cheer at the mention of Hagee’s name was Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who has occasionally been critical of the ties between the Jewish community and Christian Zionists.
“It was a heart-warming sign for me,” Brog told the Forward later, adding that it indicated to him that the pro-Israel community still strongly supports Hagee.
Leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism spearheaded the criticism of Hagee last month, after it emerged that in past sermons the pastor had portrayed the Holocaust as an attempt by God to force Jews to move to Israel.
Last year, Hagee was one of the keynote speakers at the Aipac policy conference and was warmly welcomed by attendees. According to Brog, Hagee was invited to join this year’s conference as a participant but could not attend due to his busy schedule.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman