Angered by Pat Robertson's suggestion that G-d punished Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with a stroke, Israel has booted the religious broadcaster from a group of American evangelicals it is working with to establish a Christian tourism center in Galilee.
"The minister of tourism has decided that the center will go ahead, the project will go ahead, but it will go ahead with other parties and not Mr. Robertson," Jonathan Pulik, a tourism ministry spokesman, said Wednesday from Jerusalem in a telephone interview.
Robertson suggested on "The 700 Club" last Thursday that Sharon's illness was linked to the prime minister's transfer of Israeli-controlled land to Palestinians.
"G-d has enmity against those who `divide My land,'" Robertson said during the television show that is produced by the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach. Robertson founded CBN and hosts the show.
Sharon "was dividing G-d's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course," Robertson said. "G-d considers this land to be His. 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, G-d says, 'No, this is Mine.'"
Later the same day, CBN spokeswoman Angell Watts said Robertson had simply tried to remind viewers of what the Bible said about efforts made to divide the land of Israel.
But Israel's government was not mollified.
"It's surprising when anyone makes such comments, but particularly when someone of Mr. Robertson's stature makes them," Pulik said, adding that the comments were "unacceptable" to Israel's tourism minister, Avraham Hirchson.
Robertson could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In a news release, Watts said: "We do not respond to media reports on our relationship with other governments and we have not talked to the Israelis on this topic. We continue to maintain our longstanding commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
According to The Jerusalem Post, Hirchson was a close supporter of Sharon during the prime minister's return of Gaza to Palestinians. He quickly joined the new Kadima political party that Sharon formed after leaving the conservative Likud party.
Hirchson reportedly had been close to signing an agreement with Robertson that would provide free land for the center.
"The process at this point is being re-examined on how we will proceed, but it will move forward," Pulik said. "The project is still in the planning stages."
Like many evangelicals, Robertson is a staunch defender of Israel, and had been praised by Israeli officials as a friend of the Jewish state.
But that high standing has been damaged by his remarks about Sharon. Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, told CNN last week that Robertson's comments were "outrageous" and not something to expect "from any of our friends."
Officials expect the proposed "Galilee Heritage Park" could draw 750,000 to 1 million new tourists annually.
According to promotional information provided by Pulik, the park would be built on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, "in the heart of Jesus' ministry."
About $48 million would be spent on a garden, convention center, exhibition hall, auditorium media studio and grounds encompassing 125 acres. The park would also include "ancient sites, paths and highways that enhance understanding of the life and the times of Jesus."