Ambassador David Friedman Invited Pastor Who Said Jews Go to Hell to Embassy Opening, State Department Says

In unusual statement, State Department says it does not agree with Pastor Robert Jeffress' comments about other religions

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during a reception hosted by the Orthodox Union in Jerusalem ahead of the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made the decision to invite a pastor who had said all Jews will go to hell to the Monday's dedication ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The unusual statement added that the department does not agree with the pastor's comments about other religions. The statement is not the first time that the department has chosen to distance itself from Friedman.

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The pastor, Robert Jeffress, led a prayer at the opening of the embassy on Monday. In the past, he stated that Islam is a religion that supports pedophilia, that Mormons are a "cult" and that homosexuals are perverts. In one speech in which he attacked Islam and Mormonism as "heresy from the pit of hell", Jeffress also said that "you can't be saved by being a Jew."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked about his comments during a press briefing on Tuesday and said that he was invited by Ambassador Friedman. "We would certainly not agree with the pastor’s remarks, some of his controversial remarks that he has made about various religious groups, but he was chosen by Ambassador Friedman, who was certainly welcome to do so, and made that decision," Nauert explained. She added: "To my knowledge, we did not have any role in making that decision."

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In response to her explanation, one reporter asked Nauert: "Is this the embassy of the United States of America or is it basically Ambassador Friedman’s embassy?". Nauert replied: "Embassies certainly have their free will sometimes to make decisions about who they want to bring in as guest lecturers or people to lead a ceremony or some sort of a celebration."

Over the past year, on a number or occasions, the State Department contradicted statements that Friedman had made about the status of the West Bank as occupied territory. Friedman referred in one interview to "the so-called occupation", and in another claimed that only 2 percent of the West Bank was controlled by Israel. In both instances, the State Department said his comments did not represent a change in U.S. policy, and that the American position on the West Bank had not changed.