Lieberman backs Hagee despite calls to cut ties

Senator tells Christian gathering: I am proud to stand with you.

joe lieberman 224.88 ap (photo credit:)
joe lieberman 224.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) backed controversial pastor John Hagee during an appearance before Hagee's organization Tuesday night despite calls from some quarters of the Jewish community to cut ties with the preacher. Hagee's previous comments on the Holocaust and Catholics inflamed some Jewish and Christian groups, and also led presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whom Lieberman strongly supports, to reject Hagee's endorsement earlier this year. Lieberman, a frequent surrogate for McCain, arranged Tuesday's appearance before Christians United for Israel independently, according to the campaign. But one campaign aide, referring to outreach among evangelicals, said, "Are we happy that he's there? You bet we are." Alluding to an "aggressive campaign" to stop him from speaking at the gathering, Lieberman told the crowd that "the bond that I feel with Pastor Hagee and each and every one of you is much stronger, and I am proud to stand with you tonight." His words elicited an extended standing ovation from the annual CUFI gathering, in town to lobby Congress to support Israel, complemented by the waving of hundreds of American and Israeli flags. Lieberman noted that he didn't agree with everything Hagee has said, some of which had been "hurtful and offensive to some people," but that they agreed on more important issues. Hagee was widely criticized when previous statements he made calling the Catholic Church "the great whore" and claiming that God allowed the Holocaust so Israel could be created surfaced this spring. Lieberman also suggested that Hagee's objectionable comments had been taken out of context by a media that would, he offered, have given Moses and Miriam a hard time, too. During his remarks, Hagee lashed out more harshly at the press, with its "dark motives," and said the organization had come through "a vicious media firestorm." At the same time, he called for greater sensitivity and welcomed Catholics, to whom he has apologized, into CUFI. He also rejected beliefs he said were often ascribed to him in error, including the idea that his group supports Israel so that it will "usher in the endtimes" by bringing all the Jews to Israel or that he wants to stop peace negotiations. "Israel alone decides," he said. Hagee's address Tuesday night was his second of the conference, which opened Monday. His first speech was closed to the media on the grounds "that the press was intrusive and that their presence inhibited free discussion" at last year's conference, according to a statement by CUFI spokesman Ronn Torossian, who also said "CUFI wants to create a more intimate and open setting this year." The same justification was cited in forbidding interviews with the 4,500 conference attendees, a prohibition they were warned of several times during the conference. Many participants, though, seemed unaware of the injunction or untroubled by the press presence and were only persuaded to stop giving interviews by minders working the event. Jeremy Ben-Ami, who organized a more than 40,000-signature petition calling on Lieberman not to attend the CUFI event, criticized the Christian Zionist organization for not being open to the press and suggested the group was trying to narrow the spotlight on Hagee's "embarrassing" past statements. Ben-Ami, who heads the J Street lobbying group pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, chastised Lieberman for appearing beside a speaker whose hawkish views on Israel don't correspond with those of the majority of American Jews, according to a J Street poll. He posed a rhetorical question to Lieberman: "If you believe that John McCain has such astute political judgment, then why don't you follow his lead on renouncing Pastor Hagee as well?"