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The televangelizing Rev. Dr. Pat Robertson’s charm beamed into his live audience at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, Mass. on the Sunday before Passover, while the mandatory yalmulke he pinned vertically to the very back of his head evaded journalists’ cameras.
"We have a common heritage, and we have common enemies," Robertson intoned to over 200 of the temple’s conservative denomination. "There is a devil," "Lucifer, light- bringer," "also called Sataan" (he rhymed it with Saddam).
The temple-hired Framingham police officer J.H. Smith handcuffed one information- bringer: a 55-year old Jewish educator from Brookline, wearing his yalmulke and the star of David, who bought his ticket, listened to Robertson, then quietly offered leaflets outside the building afterwards. Marty Federman represented "Jews Saying No to the Christian Right." No such light may be shed. He was chucked in the clink. The black-booted officer removed this gentleman–a former Hillel director at Northeastern University–into the police van parked outside since before Robertson arrived. Rabbi Gary Greene says the temple’s adult education committee wanted to provide the whole range of views by offering Robertson’s visit. But "Jews Saying No to the Christian Right" had no opportunity to ask any questions during the Q&A session. The moderator screened and chose all the questions–conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby served well in this role.
"I managed to avoid arrest by the Israeli army," says Federman, while he spent a month in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel this year. "Then I had to come to Framingham." The leaflets prepared by "Jews Saying No to the Christian Right" simply listed Robertson’s opposition to non-Christian religions, to separation of church and state, to public education, to sex, to women’s rights, to homosexuality. There’s merely one sentence involving Palestine on the flyer’s back side, describing Robertson’s support for "the failed policies of the Sharon government–policies that have not only devastated the Palestinian society and its economy, but have also led to the most Israeli deaths in any period of the country’s history (outside of all-out war), while wreaking havoc on its economy."
Despite an error in the following Tuesday’s Boston Globe, no demonstrators leafleted inside the temple, as Rabbi Greene agrees. Greene says he hadn’t asked police to remove demonstrators from synagogue property. But earlier, the police officer who emerged from the temple sanctuary before the event, suddenly alerted to demonstrators’ presence in the parking lot, said "we’ll get rid of them right away," apparently unaware of reporters nearby. Greene is "shopping around" for another temple, and says it has nothing to do with controversy around Robertson’s visit, arranged by the temple’s adult education committee, of which Greene is only one member. Federman’s court date is May 19–for trespassing and disorderly conduct.
American Christians don’t usually see this side of things, but there’s a common label that reflexively pro-Israel Jews can hurl at another Jew who dares question Israeli policy–"self-hating Jew." A Jewish fan of Robertson’s position on Israel shouted this epithet at "Jews Saying No to the Christian Right" just as they arrived at the temple’s parking lot. But Robertson says he "loves the Jews."
Why was conservative evangelist Pat Robertson at Temple Beth Sholom? Was his rare appearance in synagogue a trial to suss out the political repercussions of a new alliance, still in the dark to most Americans? The temple’s cantor opened the evening with "America the Beautiful," and then "Hatikva," Israel’s national anthem. Most of the world well understands that U.S. foreign policy planners’ have for decades channeled billions of U.S. dollars to the Israeli government and military–more aid than any country in the world receives. Robertson said to the Jewish congregation, Israel is not just "a permanent aircraft carrier" for the U.S. What is it then to Robertson? What strategic alliance does the wealthy Reverend intend?
There’s only one Western developed country where extremist fundamentalists manipulate a populace in which large groups believe that the world was created 4,000 years ago, that evolution is a fiction, that miracles happen. Exploiting the psychologically vulnerable is an ancient trick. Americans are only a recent victim. And Pat Robertson only a recent impresario on the stage of tricksters who interpret holy books for their own enrichment.
Robertson televangelizes through his Christian Broadcasting Network’s "700 Club" program for three hours a day in every U.S. town carrying the "Fox Family Channel" on cable. A businessman and politician, he ran for President in 1988, and heads the Christian Coalition. In 1990 he founded a "family entertainment" vehicle for The Family Channel, which sold seven years later for $1.9 billion.
The temple’s Jack Bushinsky announced that a portion of the evening’s proceeds will be donated to the Christian Broadcasting Network. According to Rabbi Greene, the engagement came about because "one of Pat Robertson’s businesses does business with one of our congregant’s businesses." Robertson inherited the patent on the Ice Ban liquid de-icing product, manufactured in Robertson’s town, Virginia Beach, according to temple congregant Ed Brookmeyer. His company stores a half million gallons of the chemical in Lowell, Mass. And New England’s environmentally concerned cities and towns purchase the stuff to reduce their use of road salt– unknowingly enriching Robertson.
Robertson’s mild-mannered preacher’s charm lulled the temple crowd. He claimed he doesn’t believe in the "ingathering" of the Jewish people for an apocalypse in which they’re either converted to Christianity, or killed by "God." "There is no battle of Armageddon; there is a battle for Jerusalem." As Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates says, Robertson has been publishing his apocalyptic visions and speculating on the "end times" for 20 years.
Berlet identifies as a Christian, and says according to Robertson’s "understanding of Biblical prophesy, Israel has to be controlled by Jews so that Christ can come back and slaughter all the Jews, except 144,000 who convert. Why this would seem like a good idea is probably built around simple pragmatism. Since most Jews don’t think Christ is coming back, they figure it’s not a bad deal, because they get support for Israel and they don’t get slaughtered in the end times because they don’t believe in them."
"What Robertson said at the synagogue," says Berlet, "is a gloss to pull the wool over the eyes of the people he’s trying to form a coalition with so that they can basically blow up the Temple Mount’s mosque and replace it with a synagogue–and then Christ will come back."
Does the Israeli lobby need Robertson’s approval to keep U.S. aid flowing to Israel at $3 billion a year? No. Could he count on Jewish votes for another run at the Presidency? No. Is his self-professed love for Jewish people the only thing motivating his temple visit? Or are his business instincts at work?
Robertson’s CBN television network has roots in the "Holy Land." Feeding war stories to his Jewish audience, Robertson pulled off a stunt that only a calculating pol could nail. First in Israel in ’67, he called the Six Days War "so brilliant." But it was ’82 when he wanted to broadcast. He recounted his adventures in southern Lebanon, in the service of profit and prophet. Robertson saw a grand design in broadcasting Christian television to the Lebanese. He claims the Lebanese shot rockets to knock out his TV transmitter repeater link to Beirut. Robertson says his competitor’s TV station was showing worldwide wrestling competition to 1.1 million viewers in Lebanon. Then, "somebody sent us a tape of female mud wrestling" and "somehow" his Christian station broadcast it to the Lebanese. "They" loved it, the Reverend said, before more rockets knocked out the mud wrestling. Religious extremism aside, Robertson fancies himself a statesman. He left out 1982 in Lebanon, when Christian Phalangist militia massacred 700-3,500 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps while Ariel "The Bulldozer" Sharon’s Israeli troops surrounded and condoned it. Robertson wanted his Middle East TV in Arabic to "send a message of love and hope to that region."
"Why not begin educating [the Arabs]? Take their TV, and cut down their propaganda," suggests Robertson. Does Rev. Robertson need a toehold in the "holy" land for televangelizing? Is the born-again President George W. Bush and his invasion of Arab lands in need of any more Christian tint? Is the Bush administration’s new state television in Iraq–taken over from the old state television in Iraq–sounding the clarion call for Robertson to expand his enterprise? "Toward Freedom," Bush and company named the new U.S. channel in Baghdad. Uncle Sam plans to beam a half dozen Arabic-captioned U.S. corporations’ news programs, including a Fox News report.
"Adolph Hitler," says Robertson, "was demon possessed, as well as others in the Third Reich. . . . It’s only the love of God that will end hatred." "Sharon is strong . . . and Wolfowitz and Cheney and Bush understand the spiritual significance."
Calling "Bebe" Netanyahu "my old friend" several times, Robertson said Moslems’ "claim [to Jerusalem] in my view is somewhat faulty." Of Sharon in 2000, he said "the Prime Minister wanted to walk on the Temple Mount. This was the place where Jesus walked. When [Sharon] did, it caused the Intifada. . . . The Temple Mount was bought and paid for by King David, and it doesn’t belong to the Palestinians or Yasser Arafat . . . How dare the U.N. tell Israel how to split up the land . . . No amount of land can be given to gain peace." At one point Rev. Robertson had opined, "those religious police are brutal."
JOHN GREBE airs "Sounds of Dissent" Saturdays, 12-2 p.m. Eastern Time from Boston’s WZBC – 90.3 FM, streaming from http://wzbc.org , and coordinates radio with the Boston Independent Media Center http://Boston.IndyMedia.org. He can be reached at: jgrebe@TecsChange.org