White House backs away from controversial religious leaders at embassy ceremonies

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Hours after the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah faced questions about past comments made by three religious leaders with roles in the events — including one who is known for saying that Jews, presumably including most Israelis, are going to hell.

Shah said the comments were not “embraced” by the White House. But he refused to say how the three — two American Protestant pastors and the chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel — came to participate in the embassy events.

At the daily White House briefing on Monday, Shah initially was asked about the Rev. Robert Jeffress, who leads the influential First Baptist Dallas and delivered the opening prayer at the embassy opening. Jeffress has a long history of controversial comments, including statements suggesting the Catholic Church is a “counterfeit religion” that is used by Satan and the comment that “religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism … lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.”

Reporter Andrew Feinberg asked Shah how Jeffress was invited to participate in the embassy ceremony.

“I honestly don’t know how that came to be,” Shah said.

Shah, who said he hadn’t “seen” Jeffress’s remarks, emphasized the pastor’s extensive relationships in Washington.

White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Monday, May 14, 2018. Shah discussed the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a White House aide who dismissed Sen. John McCain’s opposition on the president’s nominee to be CIA director, saying, “He’s dying anyway” and other topics. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“Pastor [Jeffress] has had a strong relationship with many people in the faith community, as well as folks in the administration, and Republicans on the Hill, and others, I believe Democrats as well,” Shah said. “So, I think that he has a longstanding involvement with public officials. But, you know, beyond that, I don’t have a whole lot to add.”

Jeffress appeared alongside Donald Trump in the Oval Office last September. The choir of his church, First Baptist Dallas, has performed at events headlined by Trump. Jeffress’s statements previously made headlines during the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election when he described Mormonism as a “cult” during an appearance at the conservative values voter summit. At the time, Jeffress was encouraging his audience to back current Secretary of Energy Rick Perry over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon.

On Sunday night, ahead of the embassy opening, Romney sent a tweet where he criticized Jeffress’s role at the event.

“Robert Jeffress says, ‘You can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell,’” Romney wrote. “He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”

In an interview with NBC News, Jeffress denied Romney’s charge that he’s a “bigot,” but said he believes the Mormon religion is “wrong.” First Baptist Dallas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jeffress’s belief that only Christians will go to Heaven is common among evangelicals.

President Donald Trump, left, speaks with the Rev. Robert Jeffress during the “Celebrate Freedom” event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg)

Jeffress isn’t the only religious leader with a history of controversial remarks who was involved in the embassy events.

The Rev.  John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, delivered a benediction at the embassy opening. Hagee made headlines in the 2008 presidential election when Republican candidate John McCain repudiated his endorsement after tapes surfaced of a 1999 sermon where Hagee suggested Hitler was an instrument of God’s will because he pushed many Jews to return to Israel.

“God says in Jeremiah 16: ‘Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. … Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters,’” Hagee said. “’And they the hunters shall hunt them.’ That would be the Jews. … Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.”

As that controversy erupted, Hagee wrote a letter to Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, seeking to clarify the position. Hagee stressed that he did not mean to condone the Holocaust and vowed to “work to express my faith in a way that is sensitive to and respectful of others, including the Jewish community.” Foxman responded with a letter praising Hagee for his work “combating anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel”

When asked about Hagee’s role in the embassy ceremony, a spokesperson for the pastor’s organization, Christians United for Israel, told Yahoo News that Hagee’s controversial sermon was based on the teachings of Jewish theologian Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal. The spokesperson also pointed to Hagee’s 2008 exchange with Foxman. The organization had no information about how Hagee was invited to participate in the ceremony.

Televangelical Rev. John Hagee attends a Christians United for Israel summit in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2010. (Photo: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, both of whom are also advisers to the president, were blessed by Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef as part of their trip to the country. (Israel has two chief rabbis, reflecting different origins of its Jewish population. Sephardic Jews have ancestry primarily from the Mideast and North Africa.) Yosef has been denounced by the Anti- Defamation League for remarks he made earlier this year where he compared black people to monkeys. He could not be reached for comment on this story.

After Shah initially addressed the Jeffress appearance, Yahoo News asked him to respond to specific remarks Jeffress made as well as those from Hagee and Yosef. Shah said he was unaware how the three became involved in the embassy events and distanced the White House from their controversial past statements.

“I don’t have any readout on how they became involved with these events. All I’ll say is that those specific views that you outlined, if they’re accurate reflections of what was said, wouldn’t be embraced by this White House,” Shah said. “Beyond that, I don’t have anything else.”

_____

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    Nigel Farage doused in milkshake on the campaign trail

    After eggs and tomatoes, the latest food trend (to throw at political adversaries) is apparently milkshake. Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s Brexit Party, was covered in milkshake by an anti-Brexit protester as he visited Newcastle on Monday for his party's campaigning for the European parliament elections. Farage is the latest in a series of anti-EU figures to be targeted by such incidents involving milkshake. Farage played a central role in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. The shake, thrown by a man in his 30s, hit Farage as he was just done addressing supporters in Newcastle. The acting MEP for the South East England constituency was then escorted by aides into a taxi, according to a witness cited by Reuters. “Sadly some remainers have become radicalised, to the extent that normal campaigning is becoming impossible,” the Brexit Party leader tweeted after the incident. “For a civilised democracy to work you need the losers consent, politicians not accepting the referendum result have led us to this.” Farage’s Brexit Party, which was formed only two months ago, is predicted to win the most votes in the UK at the European elections later this week. The party is campaigning on a platform promising to take the country out of the European Union without a deal. A Newcastle local tweeted a photo of his hand holding a milkshake near a protest in the city centre on Monday afternoon. He then added that he had thrown it at Farage: Other anti-EU candidates not associated with the Brexit Party have also been targeted by milkshakes in recent weeks.

  • News
    The Canadian Press

    Need to learn more about business? You have many options

    NEW YORK — Many small business owners who never went to business school feel at a loss when they're trying to assess their companies' finances, managing their staffers or marketing their products or services. There are many resources available for those who want to get a grounding in business basics, including many courses that are free or low-cost:— The Small Business Administration has free 30-minute online courses on topics including the basics of accounting and marketing and how to write a business plan or prepare a loan application. The courses, which can be taken at any time, also address how to seek government contracts and how to apply for government programs aimed at helping women- and minority-owned businesses. You can the courses at www.sba.gov/course .— SCORE, the organization that gives free counselling to small businesses, also has online courses that can be taken at any time. The topics include starting, managing and building a business. Some of the courses are offered in Spanish. You can find them at www.score.org .— MOOC, EdX and Coursera are affiliated online services that offer courses across the academic spectrum. The courses are given by some of the country's top business schools as well as private companies like IBM and Amazon. The offerings range from the basic to the highly technical and focused, including how to work with specific software programs. Many courses are free, but users can also pay a fee for some studies to get certification. You can access the courses at www.mooc.org and www.edx.org .— Many colleges offer non-degree classes, and some schools that host SBA-sponsored Small Business Development Centers have free or low-cost classes; the courses can be in-person or online. Do a search for "SBDCD" and the topic you're interested in and you'll see schools that offer the courses. SBDCs also offer free counselling. To find one in your area, visit www.sba.gov and click on "Local Assistance."— Some owners decide they'd like to take the plunge and obtain their MBAs, not an easy task when trying to run a business. But many colleges and universities offer part-time and/or online MBA programs that allow owners to study long-distance and at a slower pace than traditional on-campus programs. And some of the schools don't require applicants to take the Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAT, exam._____Follow Joyce Rosenberg at www.twitter.com/JoyceMRosenberg . Her work can be found here: https://apnews.comJoyce M. Rosenberg, The Associated Press

  • Squamish Nation Trust breaks down barriers for Indigenous entrepreneurs
    News
    CBC

    Squamish Nation Trust breaks down barriers for Indigenous entrepreneurs

    In a warehouse tucked away on the heavily-industrialized shores of North Vancouver, the sounds of forklifts, stone blades, and shop vacuums, spill over into the nearby parking lot. Lisa Peterson, 30, CEO of Peterson Stone Works and member of the Squamish Nation, approves the final product and ensures the delivery leaves on schedule. "Being Indigenous, and a woman, people often assume I'm a secretary in this type of business," said Peterson.

  • Lobster fishermen report record numbers in Quebec's Gaspé region
    News
    CBC

    Lobster fishermen report record numbers in Quebec's Gaspé region

    Will the summer of 2019 be a record season for Gaspé lobster? Sunday morning, Jimmy Lepage and his crew set sail in the sector of Percé, Que., a small municipality near the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula. If the trend continues, Lepage will rake in more than 100,000 pounds of lobster.

  • Huawei mobile users ponder switching brand after Google news
    News
    Reuters

    Huawei mobile users ponder switching brand after Google news

    Google said on Monday it would comply with an order by U.S. President Donald Trump to stop supplying Huawei, meaning it would no longer be able to offer its popular Android apps to buyers of new Huawei phones. The order to U.S. companies could affect tens of millions of consumers in Europe, its biggest market outside mainland China. Trump's move, said to be motivated by spying concerns amid a bitter trade war with China, could at a single blow derail Huawei's ambitions to overtake Samsung as the world's biggest phone maker.

  • Alberta premier's pledge to end solar rebates leaves industry in limbo
    CBC

    Alberta premier's pledge to end solar rebates leaves industry in limbo

    Wind and solar power companies are worried their industry could take a big hit if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney makes good on his campaign pledge to end rebates for renewable energy.

  • Patient left alone with confidential document raises privacy concerns
    News
    CBC

    Patient left alone with confidential document raises privacy concerns

    Sylvia Andrighetti was alone in an examining room at the Hull Hospital in Gatineau, Que., last month when she saw something she shouldn't have. "I was there in the examination room for 10 minutes doing nothing but waiting," Andrighetti said in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada. The sheet of paper contained a trove of confidential information: patients' names, ages, telephone numbers, health insurance numbers and appointment times.

  • Huge tanker plane arrives in Whitehorse to help train firefighters
    News
    CBC

    Huge tanker plane arrives in Whitehorse to help train firefighters

    It's a big plane — and hopes are, it will help put out Yukon wildfires if it comes to it. It's as big as a commercial aircraft and there's only a few of them left in Canada. "This year it looks like it's shaping up to be a busier than normal fire season," said Walter Nehring, air attack officer with Yukon Wildland Fire.

  • Impossible Foods debuts meatless sausage at Little Caesars
    News
    The Canadian Press

    Impossible Foods debuts meatless sausage at Little Caesars

    DETROIT — Plant-based burger maker Impossible Foods is debuting its second product — meatless sausage crumbles — on Little Caesars pizza.Little Caesars will start testing the Impossible Supreme Pizza on Monday at 58 restaurants in Fort Myers, Florida; Yakima, Washington; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The $12 pizza also comes with mushrooms, caramelized onions and green peppers.If the test goes well, Detroit-based Little Caesars could expand availability nationwide.It's already been a busy spring for meat substitutes. Earlier this month, Impossible Foods' rival Beyond Meat debuted on the Nasdaq; its stock price has more than tripled since the IPO.Burger King is testing an Impossible Whopper and could sell it nationwide by the end of this year. Tim Hortons announce this week that it's testing a Beyond Meat breakfast sausage in Canada. Even U.S. meat producers like Tyson Foods are investing in plant-based meats.Little Caesars approached Redwood City, California-based Impossible Foods earlier this year seeking plant-based meat for its pizzas. Impossible Foods developed the sausage with custom sweet Italian seasoning for Little Caesars.So far, Impossible Foods isn't selling the sausage anywhere else and hasn't announced any plan to, spokeswoman Rachel Konrad said.Impossible's sausage is made in the same way as its burger. The company uses heme — the protein molecule that gives meat its juicy texture — from the roots of soy plants. Instead of harvesting it from individual plants, Impossible makes batches of heme by fermenting yeast that is genetically encoded with the soy plants' DNA. To make "meat," heme is mixed with other ingredients like soy protein, coconut oil and sunflower oil.Konrad said the Impossible Sausage has a higher fat content than the Impossible Burger. It has no cholesterol, 17 grams of total fat, 17 grams of protein and 270 calories in a quarter-pound serving. By comparison, Johnsonville's sweet Italian ground sausage has 80 mg of cholesterol, 26 grams of total fat, 20 grams of protein and 340 calories.Impossible Foods was founded in 2011 and started selling its burgers to restaurants in 2016. They aren't yet sold at grocery stores. The company has raised more than $750 million in multiple rounds of funding from investors including Bill Gates, Serena Williams, Trevor Noah and Jay-Z.Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press