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Israel: Woe unto Pat Robertson for criticizing Sharon

Nation cuts ties with Christian broadcaster

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Robertson said Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for "dividing God's land."

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Pat Robertson's mouth has cost him his piece of the Holy Land.

Israel on Wednesday said it would go ahead with plans to build an evangelical Christian heritage center in northern Israel -- but without Robertson, after the Christian Coalition founder said Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for "dividing God's land."

"From our perspective, such a statement made for a person that is lying in a hospital bed is outrageous," Deputy Tourism Minister Rami Levy told CNN.

Robertson had led a group of evangelicals planning the $50 million center, a joint venture with the state of Israel. The facility is to be built along the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water.

The ministry said its decision to cut ties with Robertson was directly related to his comments. However, Israel will still continue with the project, Levy said.

"Same joint venture, just the players are going to be changed," he said. (Watch how Israel's decision curbs Robertson's plans -- 1:16)

Robertson had no immediate comment.

"We do not respond to media reports on our relationship with other governments, and we have not talked to the Israelis on this topic," his spokeswoman, Angell Watts, said Wednesday.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, said the controversy "is a blow to evangelical-Israeli relations -- and the situation is unfortunate." He said for the project to move forward, evangelical leaders "must exercise sensitivity and grace towards the people and leadership of the nation of Israel."

Israel donated the land on the Sea of Galilee for the project as part of a cooperative joint venture. Israel says millions of evangelical Christians visit the nation each year, and the project could draw even more tourists.

Robertson, who opposed Sharon's dismantling of Israeli settlements in Gaza, told viewers of his longtime show, "The 700 Club," that Sharon's stroke was God getting back at him for withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza.

"Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or the United States of America," Robertson said on the Jan. 5 program, a day after Sharon suffered a massive stroke.

"God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone.'"

Robertson said Sharon was "a very likable person, and I am sad to see him in this condition." But he linked Sharon's stroke to the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords that granted limited self-rule to the Palestinians.

"It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, now he's dead," Robertson said of Rabin.

Sharon, 77, is making some slight improvements from the cerebral hemorrhage he suffered last week as a result of his stroke. (Full story)

Robertson founded the Christian Coalition and sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. He last stirred controversy in August, when he called for the killing of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

The same month, the Anti-Defamation League criticized Robertson for warning that God would "bring judgment" against Israel for its withdrawal from Gaza, which it had occupied since the 1967 Mideast war.

CNN's Mary Snow and Producer Shira Medding contributed to this report.

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