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    Christian delegation highlights complex relations with Israel
    By ARON HELLER/The Associated Press
    April 7, 2008 – 2:42PM
    JERUSALEM (AP) – American televangelist John Hagee led several hundred flag-waving followers from the U.S. across downtown Jerusalem on Monday, a colorful display of support illustrating the growing alliance between Christian evangelicals and Israel.
    Hagee, who calls himself a Christian Zionist, pledged his unconditional backing for the Jewish state and its people. He also vehemently denied he is anti-Catholic, telling reporters that comments attributed to him were either false or mischaracterized.
    U.S. presidential candidate John McCain recently distanced himself from a Hagee endorsement because of what Catholics allege to be disparaging remarks the pastor made about them, including suggesting that Catholic anti-Semitism shaped German Nazi ruler Adolf Hitler. Some dovish Israelis are equally uncomfortable with Hagee and other evangelists because of their support for West Bank Jewish settlements and criticism of peace efforts with the Palestinians.
    Hagee, who heads a megachurch in San Antonio, established “Christians United for Israel” two years ago. More than 75,000 Christian leaders, representing tens of millions of Americans, have joined.
    Andrew Summey, a spokesman for Hagee, said the group was the “the largest grass roots Christian movement in the United States.”
    About 1,000 followers are on a 10-day visit to Israel to show their support and pledge funds to Israeli causes.
    Police blocked traffic on Jerusalem’s busiest street as followers waved flags from all 50 U.S. states and chanted slogans such as “we love you, Israel,” “Israel is not alone” and “God bless Israel,” as slightly bemused Israelis watched.
    “You can see that they really love us from all their heart,” said Becky Davidov, 57, who works in a jewelry store. “We could use some more friends like these.”
    “It’s all very nice,” added David Yom-Tov, another shopkeeper, “until Jesus comes back again.”
    Indeed, many Israelis and Jews are troubled with the source of the unbridled support – a belief by some evangelical groups in a final, apocalyptic battle between good and evil, in which Jesus returns and Jews either accept Christianity or perish.
    Israel’s government has so far chosen to enjoy the generous financial and political support of leaders like Hagee, and worry about the second coming later.
    Hagee, on his 24th visit to Israel, has met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu during his stay.
    Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said their meeting did not indicate Olmert agreed with all of Hagee’s positions. “In all too many places in the world, there is hostility toward the Jewish state,” he said. “When people profess their support for Israel, obviously that is something we can appreciate.”
    In this trip alone, Hagee’s group pledged $6 million in donations, and it plans a large lobbying march to Washington in July calling on the administration not to pressure Israel into making any concessions to the Palestinians.
    Hagee’s followers say their main inspiration is not the Armageddon, but rather, rectifying a historical Christian wrong – their silence during the Nazi Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed.
    “Our motto is: ‘Never again, not on our watch,” said Iris Dixon, a pilgrim from Texas.
    But Hagee’s politics are also a source of concern for some Israelis and Jews who support peace with the Palestinians.
    “In my eyes, this man represents an approach that is very dangerous to the future of Israel,” said Yossi Beilin, a dovish lawmaker. “Someone who is a real Zionist and wants to see Israel as a democratic country with a Jewish majority forever understands that he represents an antithesis to Zionism, and in my eyes there is nothing more ridiculous and tragic than to see in this man a friend to Israel.”
    At a solidarity event on Sunday in Jerusalem, Hagee insisted that the contested city remain united and under Jewish control. Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of their future state.
    “Turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban,” he said.
    Last week, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism, called Hagee an “extremist” on Israeli policy who disparages other faiths, calling on synagogues in the movement not to work with him.
    In a conference call with reporters Monday, Hagee responded to Yoffie. “He supports this very serious charge by repeating verbatim the Catholic League’s claim that I called the Catholic Church ‘a great whore,’ a ‘false cult system,’ and an ‘apostate church,”’ Hagee said. If Yoffie had checked his facts, Hagee said, “he would have found that I have never called the Catholic Church by these names.”
    Speaking to reporters, Hagee said it was true that he grown “skeptical of territorial concessions” but said his fundamental philosophy was that “Israelis alone have the right to make the existential decisions about land and peace.”
    Regardless, Hagee attended an emotional ceremony last week in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, where we dedicated a multimillion dollar sports center.
    “Hagee is a real Zionist. To see him and to listen to him I had tears in my eyes, we have a real friend here,” said Ariel spokesman Reuven Shapira.
    Rabbi David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs in the American Jewish Committee’s Jerusalem office, took a measured approach.
    “I don’t think Israel can afford to spurn the hand of friendship, but we do have to be careful about all the implications,” he said. “We need all responsible Jewish bodies to only cooperate with those committed to Israel’s well-being and those who support a peaceful solution to the conflict. Those whose interest is in Armageddon – that kind of support does more harm to Israel than good.”
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