Jewish Journal

In defense of John Hagee

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 29, 2008 | 5:23 pm

I mentioned in a post yesterday that leading Jewish organizations have been mum on the topic of the Rev. John Hagee and his now-infamous Hitler sermon, but that some Jews have rushed to his side.

Doris Wise Montrose, L.A. president of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors,  said her father and his friends rarely spoke of the Holocaust without mentioning God’s hand in it. (How do you talk about tragedy, especially on such an enormous scale, without wondering where God was?)

It seems now that Hagee must be the one asking: Why? Why did the public turn against him so hard when his words weren’t universally offensive, even if they were disagreeable?

“What was most breathtaking about the debate over Pastor Hagee’s statements on the Holocaust was the complete absence of one,” David Brog, Hagee’s right-hand who recently discussed theodicy with Haaretz, wrote in an op-ed titled, “The New Inquisition.”

This was not a case where thoughtful arbiters discussed his words in the context of a rich Judeo-Christian tradition of theodicy.  There was no respect given to a quite common worldview.  There was no trial.  We skipped right to the auto da fe.

Breathe in deeply and you can still smell the embers smoldering around Pastor Hagee’s public persona.

The latest pressure is being exerted upon Sen. Joe Lieberman, who agreed to speak during the annual meeting for Hagee’s Christians United for Israel and can be seen in the above video likening Hagee to Moses. A confidant of John McCain, who pushed Hagee aside, Lieberman has refused to cut ties.

“I believe that Pastor Hagee has made comments that are deeply unacceptable and hurtful,” Lieberman said in a statement. “I also believe that a person should be judged on the entire span of his or her life’s works. Pastor Hagee has devoted much of his life to fighting anti-Semitism and building bridges between Christians and Jews.”

So what’s really going on here? Were Hagee’s words hurtful, misrepresented or, on their face, uncontroversial? The always thoughtful Rick Richman of Jewish Current Issues writes that the case is awfully flimsy. He addresses five points, among them Montrose’s letter, the repeated media criticism of Hagee, the pastor’s talk in March at Stephen S. Wise Temple and a bit of theology:

Pastor Hagee cited two Biblical sources for his belief that both the tragedy of the Holocaust and the miracle of Israel were part of God’s ultimate plan.  Both were from the Hebrew Bible:  Jeremiah 16 and Ezekiel 37.

These are not obscure references (at least to the “trained ear”).  With respect to Jeremiah 16, perhaps it will suffice to note a story told on April 30, 2008 (on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day) in the pages of the Jerusalem Post, written by Naphtali Lau-Lavie, a former Israeli diplomat, who was among the last Jews of Buchenwald lined up at the gate of the camp on April 10, 1945 when American soldiers arrived:

Recently, while searching in the Yad Vashem archives, I came across the testimony of a survivor from Treblinka, who later immigrated to Chicago. This is what he wrote:

“In the early morning [on October 21, 1942] we arrived at Treblinka on the transport from our ghetto. On the ramp the selection process had begun. Together with a group of youngsters, I was taken from the crowd and pushed aside. We stood and watched the groups being led in the direction of the gas chambers.

“Suddenly, we heard the familiar, strong voice of our rabbi. He was standing in the midst of the Jews of his community reciting the confessional viduy prayer, said when Jews know they are about to be martyred. The rabbi said a verse, and his “congregation” repeated it after him, verse by verse.” . . .

The Jews described were from the city of Piotrkow in Poland, and the rabbi referred to was my father.

My father’s life was taken at Treblinka after he said the viduy. . . . At our last meeting, as . . . we were standing on the doorstep, he recited from Jeremiah 16:6-7: “Both the great and the small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried; neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them; neither shall men break bread for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother.”

Then he stopped for a while, looked straight into my eyes, and continued, again from Jeremiah, 13:16: “And there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord, And thy children shall return to their own border.”

Next he addressed me directly: “If you manage to get out of here, go and return to the Land from which we were expelled, because only there will the Jewish people be itself and become strong enough to prevent such tragedies.”

As for the reference to Ezekiel 37, perhaps an even shorter explanation will suffice.  Above the parking lot at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the first thing one notices is a prominent quotation in large letters.  It is from Ezekiel 37:14, reflecting a promise in the preceding verses that God will “open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves . . . and I will bring you into the land of Israel.”  The quotation is this:  “And I will put My spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will set you on your land.”

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