The White House sharply criticized Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson on Friday for suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for "dividing God's land."
"Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don't have a place in this or any other debate," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said as President Bush traveled to Chicago for a speech.
Religious leaders denounced Robertson's remarks as "un-Christian."
Speaking Thursday on his TV program "The 700 Club," Robertson said, "God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says 'This is my land,' and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, 'No, this is mine.'"
Sharon, who ordered Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year, suffered a severe stroke
In his broadcast, Robertson called Sharon "a very tender-hearted man and a good friend" and said he had personally prayed with him about a year ago. He said he was sad to see Sharon in this condition.
He also said, however, that in the Bible, the prophet Joel "makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who 'divide my land."'
Sharon "was dividing God's land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America," Robertson said.
In discussing what he said was God's insistence that Israel not be divided, Robertson also referred to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had sought to achieve peace by giving land to the Palestinians. "It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead," he said.
Anti-Defamation League director Abraham H. Foxman called Robertson's remarks "un-Christian and a perversion of religion" and urged Christian leaders to "distance themselves" from the broadcaster.
People For the American Way Foundation, which monitors "The 700 Club," also criticized Robertson's comments, calling them "an implicit reference to recent steps the prime minister has taken to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."
"Once again, Pat Robertson leaves us speechless with his insensitivity and arrogance," the group's president, Ralph G. Neas, said in a statement.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said a religious leader "should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life."
"Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda," Lynn said in a statement.
But Robertson spokeswoman Angell Watts refused to back down, saying of critics who challenged his remarks, "What they're basically saying is, `How dare Pat Robertson quote the Bible?"'
"This is what the word of God says," Watts said. "This is nothing new to the Christian community."
It's not the first time Robertson's remarks have stirred controversy. In August, he suggested on "The 700 Club" that American agents should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long been at odds with U.S. foreign policy. Robertson later apologized
, saying he "spoke in frustration."
And in November, he warned residents of a rural Pennsylvania town that disaster may strike there because they voted to oust school board members who favored teaching intelligent design.
"If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God," he told residents of Dover, Pa. "You just rejected him from your city."