A controversial Christian televangelist who once suggested Adolf Hitler was sent by God addressed one of the largest gatherings of Jewish Americans in decades.
Jewish progressive groups and peace demonstrators condemned an appearance from megachurch pastor John Hagee at Tuesday’s March for Israel outside the US Capitol in Washington DC, where tens of thousands of people rallied against antisemitism in the wake of Hamas attacks on 7 October and Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza.
Mr Hagee, the leader of the influential Christians United for Israel, has faced widespread criticism and scrutiny for previous statements supporting antisemitic conspiracy theories and comments, including a sermon from the 1990s in which he suggested that “Hitler was a hunter” and “God allowed it to happen” because God said “my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel”, comments that echo a Christian Zionist prophecy relying on Jewish people in the Holy Land to initiate the second coming of Jesus Christ.
“I am horrified that he was given this platform,” said Hadar Susskind, president of Americans for Peace Now, which endorsed the rally. “His history of hateful comments should disqualify him from decent company, much less from speaking on stage. He is not welcome and should not speak.”
“We can build broad coalitions against antisemitism and in support of the Israeli people without platforming bigots like Pastor Hagee – who promotes an apocalyptic, antisemitic worldview rooted in hate against LGBTQ, Muslim, and other communities,” said Amy Spitalnick, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“A dangerous bigot like Hagee should not be welcomed anywhere in our community. Period,” added pro-Israel advocacy group J Street.
American Jewish organisation IfNotNow said Mr Hagee “should never have a platform”.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism for Israel, told The Times of Israel that Mr Hagee “does not reflect the values of our movement, to put it mildly”.
The Independent has requested comment from March for Israel organisers.
Mr Hagee also once claimed Hitler descended from a lineage of “half-breed Jews” and suggested Jewish people are responsible for persecution against them because of their “disobedience and rebellion” from God.
Mr Hagee has since apologised for his prior comments, which prompted then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain to distance himself from the pastor for his “deeply offensive and indefensible” views.
Christian Zionism has centred the broader conflict in Gaza, where more than 11,000 people have been killed within the last six weeks, within a wider context of an antisemitic “end times” prophecy that relies on Jewish people to occupy the Holy Land to bring about the second coming of Christ.
Mr Hagee believes the Bible commands Christians to support the state of Israel, though his organisation has previously said its support for Israel is unrelated to Christian eschatology.
But the evolving roles of Christian Zionism and Christian nationalist movements in Republican politics, particularly within Donald Trump’s administration and its relationship with Israel, have moved from the fringe of the GOP into its mainstream.
The former president moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and endorsed a plan for Israel’s annexation of large swaths of the West Bank, measures that Mr Trump promoted to conservative Jewish voters and evangelical Christians as he campaigned for re-election in 2020.
Mr Hagee and his Christians United for Israel have also courted Republican candidates vying for the 2024 nomination, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
The Democratic National Committee recently condemned Ms Haley’s association with Mr Hagee, but he joined a lineup of speakers at the March for Israel event that included Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress, including Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
“Israel is not merely a state,” Mr Hagee said in his remarks on Tuesday.
“Israel is the apple of God’s eye, Israel is the shining city on the hill,” he added. “God says of Israel: Israel is my first-born son. Jerusalem is the city of God. Jerusalem is the shoreline of eternity. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel today and forever.”
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