Hagee, Lieberman take hit in new J Street poll
By Ron Kampeas
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WASHINGTON (JTA)—If you believe the latest poll of American Jews, they have lost that lovin’ feeling for Joe Lieberman and probably never had it for Pastor John Hagee.
Therein lies the rub: Hagee’s spokesmen do not believe the results, saying the poll—commissioned by J Street, a new left-leaning pro-Israel lobby—relied on skewed questions.
As for Lieberman, the independent U.S. senator from Connecticut is not disputing the findings, but says he pays little attention to polls.
According to the poll, which has a margin of error of 3.5 percent, Lieberman scored an unfavorable rating of 48 percent, compared to a favorable rating of 37 percent.
Hagee, the leading right-wing Christian Zionist whose endorsement of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) triggered a firestorm earlier this year, fared even worse: The pastor registered a 7 percent favorable rating, while his unfavorables came in at 57 percent.
The poll was based on interviews with 800 Jewish respondents between June 29 and July 3.
J Street and Jewish liberal activists waged a campaign urging Lieberman to skip Hagee’s July Christians United for Israel conference in Washington. Americans for Peace Now also asked Lieberman to take a pass.
Lieberman opted to attend and speak.
Hagee launched “Nights to Honor
Israel” from his San Antonio church in the early 1980s. The pro-Israel gatherings are now routinely held in major cities across the United States. Their success led Hagee to establish CUFI three years ago.
J Street, which advocates a pronounced role for the United States in the peace process that would at times encompass pressure on Israel, says the results—particularly regarding Hagee, who opposes any U.S. pressure on Israel—underscore its argument that most American Jews reject Hagee’s view and the idea of working with him.
“When presented with both sides of the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, American Jews strongly favor the United States using its leverage to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the group said in a statement.
According to J Street Executive Director, Jeremy Ben Ami, part of Hagee’s problem with U.S. Jews is that he brings a strong religious sensibility to his politicking.
CUFI’s Jewish executive director David Brog said that such comments reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Hagee’s mission.
Hagee’s theological musings have little to do with why he promotes support for Israel, Brog said, adding that his efforts are based on sympathy for a fellow democracy facing the threat of radical Islamist terrorism.
Half of the respondents to the survey were asked, in one series of questions, whether various alleged facts and statements were “convincing reasons to oppose forming alliances” with Hagee and CUFI.
Between 59 percent and 63 percent of the respondents said that it was convincing to oppose such ties based on claims that Hagee sees supporting Israel as a way to help “bring Armageddon and the second coming of Christ,” opposes U.S.-backed peace initiatives because he wants to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and has said that liberal Jews who disagree with his opposition to abortion and homosexuality are “not driven by the word of God.”
The number jumped to 81 percent when a subset of 400 respondents were told: “Reverend Hagee’s derogatory comments toward women, African Americans, Catholics and gay people led the top Reform rabbi in America to publicly call on American Jews not to form alliances with Hagee.”
Hagee’s supporters took issue with questions, arguing that they distort his record.
The pastor has repeatedly disavowed end-of-days theology, and alienated some evangelical allies by arguing that Jews do not need to convert to undergo salvation.
The survey questions also failed to note that the pastor apologized for or clarified remarks offensive to gays, African Americans and Catholics. Hagee’s chief Catholic critic, Bill Donohue, accepted his apology and even attended the CUFI convention.
Ben Ami insisted that the questions in the survey rely on quotes drawn directly from writings by Hagee or CUFI. The questions in the poll about Hagee’s record and views followed the part of the survey that assessed his favorability, so the phrasing of those questions may not explain Hagee’s poor showing.
In the end, Ben Ami said, the important point is to dispel the many misperceptions about who speaks for the Jewish community—and, he added, what the poll shows is that Hagee and Lieberman do not.
Brog acknowledged that Hagee and CUFI still had their work cut out for them among Jews. “This is not only a man who has spent his adult life defending Israel and fighting anti-Semitism, he is also willing to dialogue, with more objectivity and decency than those who attack him,” he said.