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Why Did J Street Make a ‘Radical’ Revision to John Hagee’s Words? (UPDATED)

By Daniel Treiman

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Note: J Street has responded with an apology and explanation. See the updates to this post below.

It’s not hard to find examples of inflammatory rhetoric from Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee. All you have to do is listen to his sermons, read his books or, for the more lazy among us, do a quick Google search. J Street, the new dovish Israel lobby, dug up a few of Hagee’s greatest hits for the YouTube video that it’s circulating as the centerpiece of its campaign scolding Senator Joseph Lieberman for his embrace of the controversial pastor.

Given that there is no shortage of material to work with, it’s particularly strange that J Street would throw in a sound bite that seems to be the product of incredibly misleading editing.

At exactly 37 seconds into the following J Street video, you can hear Hagee say: “Islam is a doctrine of death.”

The problem is that this snippet omits a single — and quite significant — word. In a 2006 sermon at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Hagee said that “Radical Islam is a doctrine of death.” (Emphasis is mine.)

You can hear Hagee’s exact words at 8:33 into the following video (be forewarned, the images that illustrate the video are incredibly gruesome):

This sermon appears to be the source of the sound bite featured in J Street’s video. Indeed, you can even hear a trace of the final syllable of the word “radical” at the beginning of J Street’s excerpt.

Omitting the word “radical,” of course, changes what would seem to be an entirely reasonable statement into evidence that Hagee is anti-Muslim. Whether this is the result of malice or simply of incredible sloppiness — or incredibly sloppy maliciousness — is another question.

The irony here is that there is a case to be made that Hagee is broadly (and theologically) hostile to Islam, and it’s a case that doesn’t require misleading sound-editing to make. While Hagee often specifies that his critiques are specific to “radical Islam,” he isn’t always so judicious in his words. Indeed, in the very same sermon, Hagee places the problem of terrorism and extremism in the context of a larger historical struggle between “Judeo-Christianity” and Islam. And he attributes the turmoil in the Middle East, not simply to present-day extremist groups, but rather to “a 4,000-year-old family feud that will eventually lead to the battle of Armageddon,” pointing to the biblical rift involving Ishmael, whose descendants, the pastor explains, “became the Arabian nation, the Arab nation, and in time evolved to have a theology of Allah and Islam.”

There’s plenty more where that came from — just in that single sermon. That’s what makes J Street’s resort to this distorted sound bite so puzzling.

UPDATE: The J Street video has been removed from YouTube and J Street’s Web site (as of the evening of Monday June 2).

UPDATE II: J Street has now uploaded a new version of its video with the snippet in question removed. J Street’s online campaigns director, Isaac Luria, has posted a comment to this post explaining that the omission of the word “radical” was the result of an editing error. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of this post to read his full explanation. (Updated at 10:00 p.m. on June 2.)

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david smith Sat. May 31, 2008

J Street’s elision of the word “radical” doesn’t strike me as particularly puzzling, nor, given the broader scope of Hagee’s bigotry as outlined in this very speech, is there any basis supporting a claim that he has been misrepresented or his views distorted in any meaningful way. (As to the inference of malice on J Street’s part, there’s no discernible evidence one way or the other, though the absence of any actual distortion leaves me skeptical about the presence of some invidious intent.) In the context of Hagee’s other comments about Islam, it’s clear his use of “radical” was a meaningless redundancy, an empty rhetorical device consistently on display in the toilet of Republican talk radio, where mindless propaganda takes the place of factual analysis or coherent thought. As, for example, with the delusional refrain that opposition to the war in Iraq is limited to the “far left” (which, after all, only consists of 75 % or so of the American public). Plainly, that is the case with Hagee and Islam. Not only does Hagee fail to draw any distinction between “radical” Islam and any other iteration, but he explicitly identifies the religion itself as the object of his millennial lunacy. In short, the quote attributed to Hagee by J Street is utterly consistent with his stated beliefs, and while the process resulting in that quote was both sloppy and gratuitous, there was nothing “incredibly misleading” about it.

eric weingarden Mon. Jun 2, 2008

j street's point is hagee is frightening and i think to pick at a technicality is unfortunate. as is admitted above, there is a strong case that hagee is hostile towards islam. i would go even farther and say he is more than hostile, he is an extremist and a bigot. sadly his hate-filled rhetoric is backed up with enormous financial resources and astonishing political clout. that being said, any instance of an organized effort to expose his brand of extremism is an action i support.

Isaac Luria Mon. Jun 2, 2008

Mea culpe. You are right on both counts. Our production team did indeed make what you correctly deduced was an editing error - and we thank you and your readers for giving us the benefit of the doubt as to our intentions. In our haste to make our case that there should be no place in American politics – and certainly no place in the American Jewish community – for a man who holds John Hagee’s views, we failed to recognize that the word radical had been edited. We apologize and thank you for pointing out the error. We hope you will check out the new and improved version of our video “Don’t Go, Joe,” calling on Senator Joe Lieberman to follow the lead of his good friend, the Republican presidential nominee, in immediately severing ties with the incendiary Pastor Hagee and withdrawing his commitment to speak at Hagee's group's conference this summer: Moreover, you are quite right in asserting that illustrating Pastor John Hagee’s virulent hatred of Islam requires no exaggeration or slights of the editing pen. While we mistakenly dropped the word “radical” in this instance, by Hagee’s own admission there is little if any real distinction in his own mind. Just check out his conversation with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross: "Pastor HAGEE: There's really no room for compromise between radical Islam and... GROSS: I'm not talking about radical Islam. I'm just talking about Islam in general. Pastor HAGEE: Well, Islam in general, those who live by the Quran have a 12 scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews. Now, I had an Islamic on my television show last week. His name was Walid Shoebat. He was raised as a Palestinian terrorist and, at one time, was--placed a bomb and was supposed to walk into a bank. And I said, `Walid, I'm trying to understand the definition of what is a radical Islamic person because I've read many books, many magazines and I can't come up with a good definition of what constitutes a radical Islamic.' And he says these words, and I'll quote them, he said, `Anyone who truly believes the Quran is willing to kill Christians or Jews. That's waging jihad.' He said now, `Those people who are willing to go into another country and start a war will only be about 15 to 20 percent of Islam.' There are 1.3 billion people who follow the Islamic faith, so if you're saying there's only 15 percent that want to come to America or invade Israel to crush it, you're only talking about 200 million people. That's far more than Hitler and Japan and Italy and all of the axis powers in World War II had under arms. That is a massive number of people. So while we may define radical Islam as a minority, because there are so many, it is still an overpowering military potential. GROSS: But what you said is that all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews. Do you believe that? Pastor HAGEE: Well, the Quran teaches that. Yes, it teaches that very clearly." Not only are John Hagee's words unacceptable but wrapping them in supposed support for Israel doesn't excuse them. In fact, Hagee's views - from his implacable opposition to territorial concessions for peace to his outspoken support for military action against Iran - have nothing to do with Israel's best interests and everything to do with Hagee's own interest in promoting his movement and his own apocalyptic theology. A true and strong U.S-Israel relationship must be grounded in the real challenges to Israel's security in the here and now, not in some wild delusions about the hereafter. Isaac Luria Online Campaigns Director J Street

Herbert Kaine Wed. Jun 4, 2008

Sorry, J streets support of Israel is conditional. The approach of J street is the tough love approach of Carter, Walt, Mearsheimer, and Finkelstein. I trust Hagee more than Soros

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