WASHINGTON – The White House sharply criticized Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson on Friday for suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."
"Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don't have a place in this or any other debate," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said as Bush traveled to Chicago for a speech.
Robertson stirred debate from his comments on his TV program, "The 700 Club" on Thursday.
"God considers this land to be his," Robertson said. "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, God says, `No, this is mine."'
Sharon, who ordered Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year, suffered a severe stroke on Wednesday.
In Robertson's broadcast from his Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, the evangelist said he had personally prayed about a year ago with Sharon, whom he called "a very tender-hearted man and a good friend." He said he was sad to see Sharon in this condition.
He also said, however, that in the Bible, the prophet Joel "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land."'
Sharon "was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said.
In discussing what he said was God's insistence that Israel not be divided, Robertson also referred to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had sought to achieve peace by giving land to the Palestinians. "It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead," he said.
The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. Robertson made similar comments as the Gaza withdrawal occurred, it said.
"It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel's leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians," said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the group, which fights anti-Semitism. "His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don't see God as cruel and vengeful."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said a religious leader "should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life."
"Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda," Lynn said in a statement.
Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts said of critics who challenged his remarks, "What they're basically saying is, `How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?"'
"This is what the word of God says," Watts said. "This is nothing new to the Christian community."
In August, Robertson suggested on "The 700 Club" that American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long been at odds with U.S. foreign policy. Robertson later apologized for his remarks, saying he "spoke in frustration."