Conservative Christian evangelical broadcaster Pat Robertson on Thursday linked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke to God's “Enmity against those ‘who divide my land.’”
“He was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said on his television program, “The 700 Club," Broadcast from his Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach. “God says 'this land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.’”
Last year, Sharon, a longtime hawk and supporter of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, changed tack and withdrew from the Gaza Strip and some settlements in the West Bank - as the best hope for achieving a peace deal with the Palestinians.
The unilateral pullout was supported by the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States.
But it was strongly opposed by many members of Sharon's right-wing Likud party, prompting the prime minister to quit and form a new centrist party.
Some U.S. evangelical Christians also opposed the Israeli withdrawal from lands that they believe constitute the biblical land of Israel and link to prophecies foretelling the second coming of Christ.
Robertson said that he had personally prayed about a year ago with Sharon, whom he called “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend." He said he was sad to see Sharon in this condition.
Robertson also said that in the Bible, the prophet Joel “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’”
“God considers this land to be his,” Robertson said. “You read the Bible and he says ‘this is my land’, and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says ‘no’, this is mine.”
Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Remarks draw criticism
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, criticized Robertson's remarks and rejected his attempt to ascribe a religion-based rationale to Sharon's illness.
"Rev. Robertson’s remarks, as reported to me, are deeply troubling. The thrust of his remarks is that Prime Minister Sharon’s life-threatening illness is a punishment for the disengagement from Gaza. No person can know God's reasons for human illnesses or calamities," a statement issued by Weinreb said.
The rabbi expressed his hope God "bless Mr. Sharon who, whether one agrees or disagrees with his specific policy positions, is a person who dedicated his life to Jewish people and the Jewish state, with healing and recovery and bless his family and all of Israel with comfort and peace."
Meanwhile, people For the American Way Foundation, which monitors “The 700 Club”, criticized Robertson's remarks, calling them “an implicit reference to recent steps the prime minister has taken to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
“Once again, Pat Robertson leaves us speechless with his insensitivity and arrogance,” the group's president, Ralph G. Neas, said in a statement.
Neas said President George W. Bush should “immediately disavow these irresponsible, inflammatory statements.” Robertson has supported Bush.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life.”
“Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda,” Lynn said in a statement.
In August, Robertson suggested on "The 700 Club" that American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long been at odds with U.S. Foreign policy.
Robertson later apologized for his remarks. “Is it right to call for assassination?” Robertson said at the time. "No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him.”