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Perry’s Israel support plays well with Jewish, evangelical voters for very different reasons

Just days before a United Nations vote to determine the Palestinian right to statehood, Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry lambasted the Obama administration’s Middle East policy toward Israel, calling it “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” during a rally in New York City Tuesday morning.

Affirming his allegiance to Israel, Perry stood alongside several Jewish leaders including an Israeli politician and an American Orthodox Rabbi.

While Perry’s rhetoric on Israel echoes that of other GOPers, and curries favor with Jewish Americans and Israelis abroad, the governor’s close ties to groups calling for Jews to convert Christianity may not play so well among those same circles.

As host of the “The Response,” a controversial Christian prayer rally in Houston held in August, Perry partnered with organizations like the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer (IHOP), which believe Jewish people should convert to Christianity to help bring on the return of Jesus Christ. The group held a conference in 2010 built around that cause in particular.

“Response” endorser Mike Bickle — who led prayer onstage for much of the event — leads the all-hours worship center, which been criticized by pastors elsewhere for its “cultish atmosphere.” IHOP has close connections to prayer groups overseas, including one in Israel, where Jews are encouraged to convert to Christianity.

“In this humanistic culture today, people are talking about love without talking about Jesus Christ,” Bickle said onstage at “The Response.” “All these other religions, they can say what they say. There is no other god but Jesus Christ.

After the event, the Texas Observer pointed out a little-noticed moment when the evangelist Don Finto took the stage and called for the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity, saying, “Lord we pray for the revival around the world and for Israel to come to their own Messiah.”

Other “Response” endorsers also support the conversion of Jews, including San Antonio pastor and right-wing Christian Zionist John Hagee. As founder of the organization Christians United for Israel, Hagee’s backing of the Mid-East country is vocal — but, as some suggest, ill-intentioned. As pro-Israel advocacy group J-Street points out Hagee’s “so-called support for Israel is actually a means to an apocalyptic end of destruction or conversion for the Jewish people.”

Hagee also has come under fire from Jewish groups for his controversial remarks about the Holocaust and Judaism, including a sermon delivered in 1990 that suggested it was God’s will that led Nazis to expel the Jews from Europe and lead them to Palestine.

Hagee — who, like Bickle, took the stage at “The Response” — argues in his 2006 book “Jerusalem Countdown” that anti-Semitism should be blamed on Jews themselves, because of an ancient legacy curse. Hagee likened Adolf Hitler to a “hunter” sent by God, to force the Jews to return to Israel. Those comments eventually led former presidential contender John McCain to reject Hagee’s endorsement.

Perry’s partnership with these controversial figures, and his headlining role in such a divisive Christian event, elicited condemnation from those in the Texas Jewish community, including the local Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee of Houston and one of the few Jewish lawmakers in Texas, state Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin).

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