[[F A L L O U T]] * Apparently, Americans weren’t the only folks flabbergasted by right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson’s assertion last week that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s career-ending stroke was the result of divine retribution. Although Robertson sought on Tuesday to portray himself as a victim of misquoting--a beyond-brazen move, since there’s easily available video of him saying exactly what has been reported--his pathetic backtracking wasn’t enough to satisfy Israeli’s tourism ministry, which says it will no longer do business with the TV preacher and former Republican presidential candidate. Tourism Minister Abraham Hirchson told reporters that he’s given instructions to “stop all contact” with Robertson and groups associated with him. Hirchson is a fervent Sharon supporter and a member of the prime minister’s centrist Kadima Party.
This is bad news for the future of the Christian Heritage Center (or Holy Land Christian Center, as it has also been called), a sprawling $50 million theme park for Israel’s northern Galilee region, where Jesus Christ supposedly resided and taught followers. The project--which was supposed to have been funded by a church group led by Robertson--is intended to highlight the affinity between Israel and U.S. evangelical Christian groups that believe it’s part of their spiritual obligation to support the Middle Eastern nation. As The Christian Science Monitor described it last November,
The center, to be built on approximately 125 acres that the Israeli government is offering free of cost, would be a Christian theme park and visitors’ center, one that would be particularly attractive to Evangelicals and other Christians who want to spend more time in the places where Jesus walked.Hirchson has predicted that this center could attract as many as 1 million religious pilgrims annually, who’d spend up to $1.5 billion during their stay in Israel.
Highlights may include a Holy Bible Garden, full of plants and trees mentioned in the New Testament, and equipped with quiet sites for reflection and prayer. A Sea of Galilee Amphitheater will overlook the mouth of the Jordan River and hold 1,500-2,000 worshippers. And the park will have a Christian Experience Auditorium and a Multimedia Center. The center would also feature an online broadcast center, which would give religious leaders an opportunity to address their followers back home, live, near the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Galilee (which today is considered a lake).
But now the project’s future is in serious doubt. “We will not do business with [Robertson], only with other evangelicals who don’t back these comments,” tourism ministry spokesman Avi Hartuv tells the Associated Press. “We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him.” Hartuv didn’t rule out going ahead with the theme park project, so long as other backers can be found--people who support Sharon’s recovery and denounce Robertson’s statement. “We have to check this very, very carefully,” Hartuv concluded.
READ MORE: “In Defense of Pat Robertson,” by Knute Berger (Seattle Weekly).