In Jerusalem, Michele Bachmann Apologizes for 2015 Remarks About Converting Jews to Christianity

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Then-Representative Michele Bachmann speaking at a right-wing event in Maryland, March 2013.
Then-Representative Michele Bachmann speaking at a right-wing event in Maryland, March 2013.Credit: REUTERS

Former U.S. presidential candidate Michele Bachmann delivered an emotional mea culpa on Sunday for previous statements that caused great offense to the Jewish community.

In an interview with a Christian radio program in November 2015, the former Republican congresswoman for Minnesota – who is a devout Christian – had suggested that mass conversions of Jews be undertaken in order to expedite the second coming of Jesus.

“I apologize, profoundly apologize and ask forgiveness from almighty God for my statements that were said in ignorance and brought pain,” she said Sunday, while accompanying a group of Christian evangelicals to the Knesset.

Bachmann was participating in a special joint Bible study class for Christians and Jews. It was attended primarily by Christian evangelicals and Orthodox Jews – two groups known as key supporters of Israel’s right-wing government and of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Many of the Christian participants were in Israel to attend Monday afternoon’s gala ceremony marking the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Speaking with reporters after the Bible study class, Bachmann said: “We are so grateful to President Donald Trump for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He’s taken that element of warfare off the table. That element of warfare is a propaganda tool that says the Jewish people do not have a right to this land. Donald Trump says not only do they have a right, but they have a legal and legitimate right to designate Jerusalem as their capital. That is a powerful statement.”

The co-founder of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement added, “We believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this move will bring not only greater peace to Israel, but greater peace to the region.”

Trump’s decision has been widely criticized by Arab states and U.S. allies as unilateral and endangering peace efforts by seemingly recognizing only Israel’s right to Jerusalem – a city Palestinians also claim as their capital for a future state. Most foreign diplomats are planning to skip a Sunday evening reception that will precede the official relocation ceremony.

Bachmann, who lived on a kibbutz in southern Israel in the 1970s, is a regular visitor to the country. She said she considered U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.”

About 170 Christians and Jews participated in the joint Bible study class, sponsored by the special Knesset caucus that encourages Bible study. The caucus is headed by MK Yehudah Glick (Likud), an Orthodox rabbi known for leading the fight to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount – Jerusalem’s flash-point holy site.

MK Yehudah Glick (raising hand) speaking during the Bible study class in the Knesset, May 13, 2018. To his left are Rosemary Schindler Garlow and her husband Jim Garlow.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset regularly holds Bible study sessions, but only recently have Christians been invited to attend.

Behind the initiative to include them is a California-based evangelical organization known as the Schindler Society, founded by mega-church pastor Jim Garlow and his wife, Rosemary Schindler Garlow.

The organization was named after Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust and inspiration for the Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List.”

Rosemary Garlow is often presented as the niece of Schindler, but in fact she has no blood connection to the iconic rescuer: It was her ex-husband, from whom she is divorced, who was a nephew of Schindler’s.

Her second husband, who served on Trump’s faith advisory board during the presidential campaign, has been known to be a prominent anti-gay crusader. Ten years ago, Jim Garlow was instrumental in rallying conservative groups behind a proposed ban on gay marriage in California. Proposition 8 was later approved, only to be subsequently overturned by the courts.

Among the initial group of evangelicals to throw their support behind Trump in the 2016 election, Jim Garlow has compared Americans who would vote for Hillary Clinton to Germans who failed to resist Nazism.

The Schindler Society held its inaugural Jewish-Christian Bible study class in the Knesset in February, but Jim Garlow was asked not to attend in order to avoid a public relations fiasco. The class had unintentionally been scheduled on a day that coincided with the Knesset’s annual tribute to the LGBTQ community.

Garlow did, however, attend the second study class, held soon afterward, as well as the third on Sunday. Speaking during the session, he said that “one thing strangely lacking” from his training in Christian theology was the history of the persecution of Jews at the hands of Christians.

“We say to our Jewish friends in this room, ‘Thank you for forgiving us and for letting us come here today to your special place on this Jerusalem Day – and just 24 hours before the embassy move to Jerusalem – as a way of affirming wrongs that were done.’”

Garlow’s Jerusalem Day comment was a reference to the annual celebration, this year commemorating the 51st anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Garlow stressed that the purpose of the interreligious Bible classes was not for Christians to teach Jews, but rather for them to learn from Jews.

The Bible class, whose theme was Jerusalem, was delivered by Glick, as well as another Orthodox rabbi and one of a handful of Orthodox women in Israel ordained as the equivalents of rabbis in matters of halakhic rulings. As they spoke, Christians in attendance often expressed their approval with “Amens” and “Hallelujahs.”

At the introduction to his talk, Glick – who was sporting a tie with the Israeli flag printed on it – said that among the “treasure chest of miracles God has opened in recent days” was “the world recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” In fact, only a small handful of countries have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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