(Videos recorded by Rachel Tabachnick; more videos coming shortly.)
Vice President Joe Biden was greeted in Jerusalem with the announcement that the Israeli Interior Ministry approved the construction of 1600 new homes in Occupied East Jerusalem contrary to U.S. wishes and complicating Biden's mission to help jump start the peace process. But Biden should have known that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu intended to upset his plans by Netanyahu's appearance with John Hagee.
The day after a series of talks between US Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell and Netanyahu, and a day before Biden's arrival, Netanyahu appeared onstage with Pastor John Hagee in Jerusalem. The occasion was Hagee's Night To Honor Israel, an event the far-right Texas-based preacher arranged to tout his ministry's millions in donations to Israeli organizations and to level bellicose rhetoric against Israel's perceived enemies.
At the gathering, Hagee called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "the Hitler of the Middle East" and denounced the Goldstone Report as "character assassination by an unbiased and uninformed committee."
Netanyahu welcomed the crowd of 1000 American evangelicals to Jerusalem, a city he described as "the undivided, eternal capitol of the Jewish people. Then, he told them, "I salute you! The Jewish people salute you!" He used the rest of his speech to call for "tough, biting sanctions" against Iran that "bite deep into its energy sector."
Hagee and Netanyahu appear together on stage:
In the audience were top-level members of the Israeli government, from Ambassador Michael Oren to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. Also present was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of the illegal West Bank settlement of Efrat who gained notoriety for lobbying President Bill Clinton to pardon his friend, fugitive billionaire Marc Rich. Ayalon had stirred controversy days before when he refused to meet with a US congressional delegation brought to Israel by the progressive Jewish group J Street.
Part One of Hagee's speech:
Hagee's ceremony featured a 15-minute film highlighting the recipients of donations from John Hagee Ministries that totaled $58 million since 2001. The recipients included Jewish settlements from the West Bank like Gush Etzion and Shomron, which was involved in promoting an "Obama Hilltop project" that promoted more settlement building and compared Obama to Pharoah. Hagee also announced funding for a pressure group run by the settlers evacuated from Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005. During Israel's assault on Gaza in 2009, a group of Gush Katif residents lobbied the Israel government to allow them to resettle the Palestinian coastal region.
Who is Hagee funding in Israel?
The most notable of Hagee's funding recipients was an organization called Im Tirtzu. A student representative of this group appeared in the film to thank Hagee for "help[ing] us to ensure that students in Israel are on the right path, the path of Zionism, the love of Israel, the path of solidarity." Another student called for "the second revolution in Israel."
In February, Im Tirtzu funding a smear campaign against former Knesset member and New Israel Fund Director Naomi Chazan that included posters caricaturing her with a horn on her head. The group misleadingly accused the New Israel Fund of bankrolling 16 human rights organizations that contributed documentation to the Goldstone Report.
The smear campaign led to unsuccessful legislation in the Knesset designed to further cripple already marginalized Israeli human rights groups. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post fired Chazan as a columnist without explanation. Gideon Levy, a columnist for Ha'aretz, called Im Tirtzu "a McCarthyite movement" for its attacks on Chazan.
Republican Senator John McCain repudiated the endorsement of Hagee during his 2008 presidential campaign after Hagee's statements describing the Holocaust as a fulfillment of divine prophecy came to light. Hagee has also said that he believed the anti-Christ was "partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler." However, none of Hagee's comments have deterred Israeli government officials from embracing him or accepting his millions in annual charity.
During Hagee's speech, he made no secret of his support for the illegal settlement enterprise that has been the source of difficulties between the US and Israel. "The settlements are not the problem," he boomed from the podium. "The problem is the refusal of Arab leaders to respect the right of Jewish people to live anywhere in the Middle East."
Hagee received a rousing ovation from the crowd and the Israeli government officials seated beside the podium when he proclaimed, "World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and cannot do in the city of Jerusalem. They don't have the authority to tell them what they can and cannot build, who can and and cannot live there."
The following day, on March 9, Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in Israel to meet with Netanyahu and officials from the Palestinian Authority. He told reporters after touching down that he saw "a moment of real opportunity."
A complete list of Israeli organizations funded by John Hagee Ministries can be viewed here.