Comments On Ariel Sharon's Health
The lead story on the January 5, 2006, edition of The 700 Club was Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hospitalization for a severe stroke. After the story, Robertson said that Sharon's illness was possibly retribution from God for his recent drive to give more land to the Palestinians. He also claimed former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's 1995 assassination may have occurred for the same reason.
The remarks drew criticism from all sides, even from other evangelicals. For instance, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that Robertson "ought to know better" than to say such things. He added, "... the arrogance of the statement shocks me almost as much as the insensitivity of it." Ted Haggard, then president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said that "any doctor could have predicted (Sharon's) going to have health problems" and that his illness was medical, not divine retribution. The White House called Robertson's statement "wholly inappropriate and offensive". Robertson was also chastised by Israeli officials and members of the Anti-Defamation League.
On January 11, Israel responded by announcing that Robertson would be banned from involvement in a project to build a Christian tourist attraction and pilgrimage site near the Sea of Galilee known as the Christian Heritage Center. The plan had called for Israel leasing 35 acres (140,000 m2) of land to a group of evangelicals (including Robertson) for free to create several tourist attractions and pilgrimage sites in exchange for the evangelicals raising 50 million dollars in funding. A spokesman for the Tourism Ministry commented, "We cannot accept these statements, and we will not sign any contracts with Mr. Robertson."
He added that the decision would not apply to all members of the evangelical community: "We want to see who in the group supports his (Robertson's) statements. Those who support the statements cannot do business with us. Those that publicly support Ariel Sharon's recovery ... are welcome to do business with us."
On January 12, Robertson sent a letter to Sharon's son Omri, apologizing for his comments. In the letter, Robertson called Ariel Sharon a "kind, gracious and gentle man" who was "carrying an almost insurmountable burden of making decisions for his nation." He added that his "concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness...I ask your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the people of Israel." Omri and the Israeli government accepted the apology, though it remained unclear whether the deal with Robertson would be rehabilitated.
While some observers were satisfied by the gesture, some reporters also accused Robertson of using the apology as a tactic allowing him to make such statements while promoting a public image among evangelicals as a leader who does not compromise on his values. Surprisingly, some of the harsher criticism of Robertson did not come from American or Israeli Jews, but from his fellow evangelicals and conservative Christians, who charged that Robertson's behavior did serious harm to evangelicals' image, and led to unfair generalizations and criticism of them.
The fallout from Robertson's comments was still visible over a month after the event; after speaking with organizers of the National Religious Broadcasters February 2006 convention, Robertson wound up cancelling his planned keynote speech.
A representative from Israel's Tourism Ministry diplomatically commented, "Pat Robertson has been a long-term friend of the state of Israel, and continues to be so."
In March 2006, Robertson lost a bid for re-election to the board of directors of the National Religious Broadcasters.
Read more about this topic: Pat Robertson Controversies
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