In an interview today, an official from the American Jewish Committee would not criticize Pastor John Hagee for his explication, in a recently resurfaced sermon, of Hitler as a “hunter” sent by God to drive European Jews to Palestine.
Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, AJC’s US Director of Interreligious Affairs, told me that he accepted Hagee’s “clarification” of the sermon, which John McCain condemned as “crazy and unacceptable” last week. “I guess I feel like I don’t really know how to understand that sermon. I guess I understand that he was trying to say that people can be an instrument of God’s will, but in the throes of the passion of giving the sermon, perhaps he didn’t stop and think what that meant,” Greenebaum said. “But at least now, under reflection and under the current circumstances, he seems to be saying something very different. His statement of clarification I don’t have much of a beef with as a free-standing statement.”
But as the Huffington Post accurately reported last week, Hagee’s clarification doesn’t actually include an apology or a disavowal of the sermon. Here’s the tape of the sermon at issue, in which Hagee also says that “They [the Jewish people] are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive.”
Here’s the question I set out to answer last week: would the most prominent Jewish and “pro-Israel” groups in the country finally take Hagee to task for his outrageous comments and for seeing Jews primarily in terms of their role in his eschatology?
The short answer is no. I submitted requests for comment about Hagee and his sermon to three organizations: the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The first two groups closely monitor anti-Semitism and regularly issue statements decrying insensitivity to Jews by prominent figures like Hagee. As for AIPAC, Hagee had a prominent speaking role at its annual policy conference last year. And David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, the organization of which Hagee is founder and national chairman, is slated to speak at AIPAC’s 2008 policy conference next month.
Hagee’s various anti-Semitic statements have actually been known for several years, as Max Blumenthal has reported. But given that the pastor’s “Hitler was a hunter” tour de force is making national headlines and drawing criticism from a presumptive presidential nominee (and even some leaders in the Reform community), this seems like a perfect time for the ADL, AJC, and AIPAC to denounce Hagee, or, at the very least, his comments. The ADL and AIPAC, to my knowledge, have not commented on Hagee’s sermon and they didn’t respond to my requests.
Asked about Hagee’s statement that Jews are “not spiritually alive,” AJC’s Greenebaum told me today: “I don’t know what that means. The statements that I’ve read of his in recent times are actually very respectful of Jews, of the Jewish people, of Jewish religion. The question is, how do you get from there 10 years ago to where he is now. Is he that much of an evolving personality? Is his theology evolving? I don’t know the answer to that question—I’d like to know.” Asked whether he thought Hagee’s statement was anti-Semitic, Greenebaum said: “Well, in 1998, or whenever he said whatever he said, I wasn’t aware of him or his statement. I can only deal with the man as he is today. So if he wants to tell me that the refined statement or the clarification is what he believes, which is what he says he believes, how do I judge him otherwise, frankly, as a member of the clergy to a member of the clergy?”
The enduring lesson here is that you can say almost whatever you want about Jews or the Holocaust, as long as you’re perceived as a supporter of Israel. As the ADL’s Abe Foxman put it last year: “I think there is a role for [Pastor John Hagee]. He has earned a certain recognition with the community because of his support for Israel.”