The Pastor that Said God Sent Hitler to Hunt the Jews is on the comeback trail
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 19, 2010 at 11:53:11 AM EST
Pastor John Hagee, the head of a 19,000-member Texas mega-church and the founder of Christians United for Israel, a powerful lobbying group, has, in recent months, mounted an all-out public relations campaign to rehabilitate his image. Can the shouting prophet of the End Times be scrubbed clean?

If, sometime in the future, a conservative Israeli politician was able to get legislation passed through the Knesset establishing a Christian Zionist Hall of Fame in Israel, you can bet your bottom shekel that Pastor John Hagee would be among those voted into the Hall's first class. Since being shunned by Senator John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign -- after the senator had eagerly sought his endorsement -- over a tape that had Hagee bellowing his belief that Hitler and the Nazis were sent by God to chase Europe's Jews to Israel, the San Antonio, Texas-based pastor has been on the comeback trail. And while he might never wear the mantle of "The Comeback Kid," Hagee has soared back into the good graces of many  well-connected and politically powerful Americans and Israelis.

However, not all is smooth sailing. In order to regain his foothold within an often skeptical Jewish community, Team Hagee must confront persistent critics, and another more daunting obstacle:  his sermons, speeches and writings. In this major public-relations battle, Team Hagee has attacked the Obama Administration for being too rough on Israel, J Street -- a liberal Jewish organization -- and has responded directly to articles raising questions about Hagee and the dangers of a muscular Christian Zionism.

Hagee in The Jewish Daily Forward

A recent coup in that regard was a Hagee-authored opinion piece published in the May 12 edition of The Jewish Daily Forward, featured on the front page of the publication's website. Titled "Why Christian Zionists Really Support Israel," the pastor began by pointing out that May 23 has been set aside "as the second annual Christians United for Israel Sunday" and that "pastors, ministers and priests at more than 1,500 churches in all 50 states and over 50 foreign countries will dedicate their Sunday services to teaching the importance of Christian support for Israel."

Hagee acknowledged that "Given the history of Christian antisemitism," he is "not at all surprised that many in the Jewish community are skeptical of Christian support for Israel. Some worry that our efforts are motivated by a desire to convert Jews. Others posit that our Zionism is tied to an effort to speed the second coming of Jesus. Both of these allegations are flat wrong. All we ask of our Jewish friends is that they get to know us before they judge us harshly on the basis of myths such as these."

He went on to deny claims by critics "that Christian Zionists will use our influence to stand in the way of efforts to advance a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Almost immediately, Rachel Tabachnick, an independent researcher who specializes in End Times narratives, and Bruce Wilson, the co-founder of the religious blog Talk2Action and the person responsible for surfacing Hagee's Hitler as hunter of Jews tape during the 2008 presidential campaign were on the case. In a series of responses in the comments section, Tabachnick and Wilson posted a series of quotes from Hagee that directly contradicted his assertions. "Hagee's public relations team know very well the impact that quotes from Hagee raving about the end times would have in the Jewish community, and they are doing everything they can to paint him as something entirely different than what he is," Tabachnick told me in an e-mail.

Bring on the P.R. guys

In a previous piece written for Zeek -- an online publication of The Daily Forward -- titled "Saving Jews from John Hagee," Tabachnick reported that both David Brog, the Jewish executive director of CUFI, and Hagee spokesperson Ari Morgenstern "have attacked J Street for referencing Hagee's controversial `Hitler as hunter' sermon quote which resulted in John McCain's rejection of Hagee's political endorsement in 2008."

Tabachnick, who has written a number of well-researched articles about Hagee and Christian Zionism for Zeek, and the Talk2Action blog, also pointed out that Morgenstern has incorrectly "compared Hagee's sermon to the `teachings of noted Jewish theologians Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal and Eim Habanim Semaichah who put forth this interpretation as a part of their efforts to understand how a loving God could have allowed the Holocaust.'"

According to his bio posted at 30 Point Strategies, Morgenstern, a Senior Associate, holds a B.A. from the University of Alabama and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Georgia State University. He "has worked with all levels of the media, in both the domestic and international arenas," beginning "his career serving as the Press Officer for the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., where he facilitated the formulation and implementation of that nation's proactive and crisis communications strategy." He also worked "as the Public Relations and Communications Specialist for Ford & Harrison LLP, a national labor and employment law firm."

Tabachnick pointed out that the End Times plays a significant role in all of Hagee's activities: "Hagee's books and sermon clearly sketch out the prophetic timeline that he believes will be fulfilled in this generation -- what he describes as the terminal generation.  The ingathering of Jews in Israel is considered a prerequisite to the 1000-year reign of Jesus in the end times. Christian Zionists view themselves as `fishers' who must befriend and persuade Jews to move to Israel before the `time of the hunters.' Hunters are those who will violently force the remaining Jews around the world to leave their respective nations and flee to Israel."

She also told me through a series of e-mails, that after Zeek had published a number of her articles on "the dangers of partnering with Christian Zionists who have an underlying agenda of both advancing the hands of the prophetic clock and using their access to proselytize Jews, she was told `to temporarily quit writing about Christian Zionism.'"

"Morgenstern has gone a long way in rehabilitating Hagee in the mainstream and Jewish press," Tabachnick said. "Over the last few months a number of very misleading articles lauding the work of John Hagee have been placed in press around the country. And I've watched as media outlets that write negatively about Hagee are somehow convinced to print responses by Morgenstern. His claims can easily be countered with Hagee's own sermons and media. For example, after writing about Hagee's anti-Catholicism, Andrew Sullivan later posted a full page letter on his blog from Morgenstern, in which he claimed that Hagee could not possibly be comparing the Catholic Church to an entity in Revelation since it does not come into being until the End of Days."

(In Sullivan's original post on his Atlantic magazine blog, he characterized Hagee as "an anti-Catholic fundamentalist bigot." He also mentioned the appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Pastor John Hagee in Jerusalem at Hagee's "Night to Honor Israel" shortly before vice-president Joe Biden's recent disastrous visit to Israel.)

"Morgenstern's illogical argument masks the fact that along with portraying the future destruction of Rome and `Romanism,' Hagee portrays the Catholic Church as being the `apostate church' since the time of Constantine and attacks many practices of the Catholic church as inherited from the demonic religion of `Mystery Babylon,'" Tabachnick noted.

Tabachnick noted that Morgenstern also had comments added to a Washington Post Faith blog "in which he claimed that Hagee's `Hitler as hunter quote' was no different than some rabbinical discourse on the Holocaust.  It's hard to for me to imagine," Tabachnick added, "that there are many rabbis who could possibly come to that conclusion if they watched this sermon, delivered by Hagee in front of a huge graphic of the end times.
"Those familiar with years of Hagee' media empire, largely built on end-times prophecy, would not recognize the image of Hagee that is being marketed to the Jewish community," she added.

Hagee as Christian Zionist icon

In the annals of Christian Zionism, Hagee is an icon. He has managed to forge an extraordinary relationship with a number of U.S. and Israeli leaders and politicians. His organization's philanthropic endeavors are near legendary, having given away more than $50 million to Israeli charities. His "Night to Honor Israel" events raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for Israeli charities, while his annual Christians United for Israel summer conferences have drawn a host of well-known politicians, including such featured speakers as U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In February 2006, Hagee told the Jerusalem Post that CUFI should be thought of as "a Christian version of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)," the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

Hagee is well-paid for his efforts, earning, by some estimates, more than a million dollars a year.

Nevertheless, he remains a controversial figure.

Bryan Schwartzman, staff writer for the Jewish Exponent, a weekly based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, discussed Hagee -- who he characterized as "something of a political and social lightning rod" -- in a piece he wrote prior to a late-April "Night to Honor Israel" scheduled for Lansdale. Pa. titled "What to Make of Evangelical 'Love-Fests'?" Schwartzman's article pointed out that "While ... Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel ... have been no strangers to national controversy, the local event apparently hasn't ruffled many feathers.... [as a] number of rabbis and Jewish communal officials are expected to attend."

David Brog, CUFI's executive director and a former chief of staff for then-Republican Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, said of the local event: "Really, it's an evening to honor not just the Israel in the Middle East, but it's also an evening to honor the Israel in our neighborhoods, the Jewish community -- something that Christians have not traditionally done over the centuries."

Schwartzman, however, pointed out that "there's been plenty of controversy surrounding CUFI, including a 2008 statement by the leader of Reform Judaism urging Jews to stay away from any of its events, partly because he viewed CUFI's positions on Israel as too hawkish." He also noted the rift between CUFI and J Street, a relatively new and liberal group lobbying that according to its website "believe[s] that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to Israel's survival as the national home of the Jewish people and as a vibrant democracy."

According to Schwartzman, Brog claimed that "CUFI supports the positions of the government of Israel, and denied that it opposes the peace process or any Israeli policies. He said that CUFI has criticized the Obama government for pressuring Jerusalem to make concessions.... [and] that accusations that Hagee is anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim are off the mark."

John Hagee (left) met with Israeli President Shimon Peres during the evangelical Christian pastor's recent trip to Israel.

On May 23, a "Night to Honor Israel" is scheduled for Sacramento, California. A recent Sacramento Press story by Fredric Hayward -- titled "A New Era is Born"  -- didn't bother to deal with any of the controversies.

Hayward's piece pretty much read like a Team Hagee press release, revolving around the conceit that Sacramento had become "an epicenter for a new millennium," and focusing on Randy Neal and Victor Styrsky, two religious leaders who "didn't know each other" ten years ago, but are now united in their great respect for the Jewish people.
Hayward wrote that both men are "consumed by a desire to change history, to inaugurate a new era of Christian-Jewish relations that rejected the Inquisition, the Crusades, the pogroms and the Holocaust, and which replaced them with unconditional love."

Neal, who resides in San Antonio, is CUFI's Western Regional Coordinator, and the Sacramento-based Styrsky is the group's Eastern States Director and the author of the book Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered.
Regarding Sacramento's "Night to Honor Israel," Hayward wrote that the "three previous Nights in Sacramento [had] raised almost $200,000 for projects in Israel to help refugees and other immigrants, along with victims of terrorism and disadvantaged children." He noted that "other Nights throughout the country have raised more than $40 million for similar projects in Israel."

Although Hayward's piece touted Hagee's good works, a spirited discussion in the "Conversation" section following the article expanded the discussion.

In late June, Hagee has another book coming out. This one is titled, ominously enough, Can America Survive?: Ten Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation (Howard Books, June 29, 2010), and according to the "Product Description" posted at, the book concludes with a spellbinding description of Armageddon -- the Mother of All Battles -- and the ultimate return of the Messiah, which will bring peace on earth and leave Jerusalem as the epicenter of planet earth."

Christians United for Israel's next Washington Summit is scheduled for July 20-22, 2010.

Borg says in his book it was not so much Hitler, but "replacement theology" pg. 3 that caused the Holocaust.  That is the idea that Christians replaced Jews as God's covenant people.

by wilkyjr on Wed May 19, 2010 at 12:14:03 PM EST
Christian Zionism vs. replacement theology is one of the major talking points being sold to the Jewish community by Brog and others, but this is a smokescreen. (Brog is the sole Jewish director in the CUFI leadership, and author of "Standing With Israel.")  In these talking points they claim that the historical problem for Jewish and Christian relations has been replacement theology.  Therefore dispensationalism with its second chance for Jews to convert or die is supposedly preferable and described as "philo-Semitic,"  while replacement theology is described as anti-Semitic.

This completely ignores the fact that the faith of many Christians is not based on an obsession with literal end times theology, and also the fact that dispensationalism and "replacement theology" are not the only two choices in Christian theology.  It also ignores the fact that since the Holocaust many sectors of Christianity have stressed the importance of viewing Jews as human beings as opposed to simply being catalyst of the end times.

In reality the historical problem has been the irrational obsession with Jews as pawns, regardless of the precise nature of the end times narrative or whether the obsession was pre-mil, post-mil, a-mil, pre-Trib, or other ideology.  Throughout centuries there have been those who believed that they would be part of the generation that would usher in a 1000-year utopia on earth, if only their obsession with Jews as triggers of the end times could be fulfilled - whether that obsession was with scattering Jews across the "four corners of the earth," regathering Jews, or eliminating Jews.  Jews were seen as the superhuman or subhuman "other" that served as the trigger for the culmination of a utopian kingdom.

In the decades since the Holocaust American Jews have had unprecedented acceptance and have been viewed as fellow humans and citizens. However, John Hagee and other Christina Zionists leaders have played a significant role in again heightening the expectations that those living today are the terminal generation who will usher in the Millennium, if only Jews will do what they are supposed to do. They are returning Jews to the role of pawns in an end time drama in the perception of millions worldwide, and thus again stripping  Jewish humanity (and also the humanity of all the others destroyed in Hagee's end times drama).

Let me point out that I believe that John Hagee has the right to preach anything he wants, no matter how offensive I might find it.  My argument is with Israeli and Jewish leaders who have played a role in providing Hagee legitimacy and political clout, and particularly those who are helping to promote a dishonest portrayal of Hagee to the Jewish community.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Wed May 19, 2010 at 02:31:15 PM EST

I like the use of the idea of "pawns" used to describe this relationship.  In Borg's book there are stories of Christian missionaries who seek out Russian Jews, not to bring them to Christianity, but to win them to Judiasm then give them a free ticket to Israel.  

by wilkyjr on Wed May 19, 2010 at 03:02:44 PM EST
Brog quotes the late Gustav Scheller of the Ebenezer Emergency Fund's Operation Exodus, an organization which claims to have participated in providing assistance in moving a large percentage of Jews that have made aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

Scheller wrote about his work in his book "Operation Exodus: Prophecy Being Fulfilled."  Johannes Facius took over after Scheller's death and also wrote about his experiences in "Hastening the Coming of the Messiah: Fulfilling Your Role in Prophecy."  Facius wrote, " As a result of the Jewish rejection of their Messiah, the people were sent into global exile...Jesus is saying that His Second Coming will not take place until there is a Jewish population in Jerusalem who will welcome Him with all of their hearts."  He also wrote, "Ebenezer and other Christian ministries have been fishing thousands of Jews from the land of the north (the former Soviet Union) for the last ten years."

Other leaders in the organization have spoken openly about their efforts to proselytize Russians Jews before or during their transit to Israel.

I wonder on a daily basis if Brog and others partnering with Hagee are intentionally deceiving their Jewish readers, or if they have been deceived themselves.  Brog's book is an extreme example of cherry-picking the very small fraction of  information that supports your case.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Wed May 19, 2010 at 05:16:39 PM EST

Am I reading that paragraph correctly that Rachel Tabachnick was told by Zeek that Zeek would not publish more articles written by her (and presumably by others) about Christian Zionism? The meaning of this paragraph isn't totally clear but it seems very important.

by marktypos on Wed May 19, 2010 at 07:41:20 PM EST
I am currently not allowed to write about Christian Zionism for Zeek.

by Rachel Tabachnick on Fri May 21, 2010 at 11:15:20 PM EST

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