Israel’s Tourism Ministry is reportedly pulling out of a business deal with evangelical leader Pat Robertson to build a $50 million Christian heritage center beside the Sea of Galilee over the religious broadcaster’s remark that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a punishment from God.

Robertson has been leading a consortium of evangelicals who have reportedly been working with Israel to build a 125-acre theme park tentatively called Galilee World Heritage Park near the Mount of Beatitudes, the spot where tradition holds Jesus preached his Sermon and the Mount, and Capernaum, which the Bible says was his hometown.

The UK Guardian reported Thursday that the deal is off. Earlier the U.S.-based Jewish newspaper The Forward said Israeli officials were threatening to block the plan.

“We cannot do business with him after these words,” ministry spokesman Ido Hartuv told the Forward. “We have to rethink the agreement with him.”

Other reports suggested the deal could still go forward, but only without Robertson.

“We will not do business with him, only with other evangelicals who don’t back these comments,” Ido Hartuv, spokesman for the tourism ministry, said Wednesday, quoted in the Associated Press. “We will do business with other evangelical leaders, friends of Israel, but not with him.”

Last week Robertson shocked many grieving Israelis when he said the 77-year-old prime minister’s stroke was the result of divine judgment for ceding to Palestinians lands the Bible says belongs to God.

“God considers this land to be his,” Robertson said. “You read the Bible, he says, ‘This is my land.’ And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No. This is mine.'”

Israel reportedly was willing to lease the government-owned land free of charge, while the evangelicals put up the money to build a park complex including a garden, nature park, auditorium, Holy Land exhibit, outdoor amphitheaters, information center and a media studio.

Benefits for Israel include an estimated 1 million tourists expected to visit the site, bringing $1.5 billion a year into the economy, along with strengthening ties with the Christian right, some of Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States.

Robertson had said in a statement he was thrilled “there will be a place in the Galilee where evangelical Christians from all over the world can come to celebrate the actual place where Jesus Christ lived and taught.”

Not everyone is pleased with the idea, however. Some Israelis feared the evangelicals were more interested in converting Jews to Christianity than in supporting Israel.

In an effort to salvage the deal, Robertson on Thursday issued a statement apologizing to Sharon’s family, calling his remarks “inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief” over Sharon’s massive stroke.

Sharon’s condition was described Thursday as “critical but stable.” He is said to be improving, but it is still unknown to what extent his brain was damaged by the stroke and ensuring cerebral hemorrhage.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Previous related story:
Pat Robertson Says Sharon Being Punished By God

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