WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz repudiated evangelical Christian leader Mike Bickle’s statements that Adolf Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to target the Jewish people.
After making headlines last week for touting Bickle’s endorsement, and for defending his backer after Jewish groups pressed him to clarify his position on the endorsement, the Cruz campaign sent The Times of Israel a statement late Saturday declaring that the Texas senator objected to Bickle’s views while at the same time praising Bickle’s service and the work of his ministry.
“Pastor Bickle and the International House of Prayer have devoted decades to promoting prayer, and to improving the lives of those who are suffering,” the statement said. “Nevertheless, the statements from Pastor Bickle concerning Adoph [sic] Hitler are not statements with which Senator Cruz agrees.”
“It is indisputable that Adoph [sic] Hitler was the embodiment of evil; he was a grotesque murderer who committed one of the gravest acts of depravity in the history of mankind,” the statement continued. “God did not intend anything in Hitler’s evil, and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.”
Bickle, the founder and director of the International House of Prayer, a Kansas City-based ministry, works actively to convert Jews to Christianity through his Israel Mandate project, which runs daily livestreaming prayer services for “the nation of Israel to receive their Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus),” according to its website.
‘The statements from Pastor Bickle concerning Hitler are not statements with which Senator Cruz agrees’
In public sermons over the years, Bickle has focused intensely on end-times prophesies, and has predicted that Jesus will not return until Jews embrace him as their Lord and savior. He has predicted a new era of Holocaust-like conditions for Jews before the Second Coming, insisting that Jews who do not embrace Jesus will either die or be sent to prison or concentration camps.
In a 2011 sermon, Bickle cited a passage from Jeremiah 16:16 to elucidate the attempted extermination of European Jewry. “The Lord says, ‘I’m going to give all 20 million of them the chance to respond to the fishermen. And I give them grace. And he says, ‘And if they don’t respond to grace, I’m going to raise up the hunters.’ And the most famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolf Hitler,” he told an audience.
In his statement Saturday, Cruz also reiterated his support for Israel, calling himself “one of the very strongest supporters of Israel in the Congress” who has furthermore “fought tirelessly against anti-Semitism.” Cruz added that, if elected president, he would “stand unequivocally — and unapologetically — alongside the Nation of Israel.”
Cruz stopped short of rejecting Bickle’s support, citing his endorsement as one among many: “Our campaign has been endorsed by hundreds of pastors, priests, and rabbis, and we are proud to have the support of faith leaders across the country,” his statement said. “Collectively, those faith leaders have given thousands, if not tens of thousands, of sermons, which the media are only happy to scrutinize and attack.”
Cruz’s statement was his second on the matter after several Jewish organizations demanded he explicate his position on Bickle’s endorsement. The Anti-Defamation League, for instance, called on Cruz to denounce the rhetoric espoused in the evangelist’s sermons, along with his inflammatory ideas.
“Mike Bickle’s views about why God allowed Jews to be killed in the Holocaust, as expressed in a 2011 speech, are abhorrent, intolerant and unacceptable,” the ADL said. “We assume that Senator Cruz accepted Bickle’s endorsement without knowing about these comments. We hope that when these comments are called to the Senator’s attention, he will clearly and forcefully reject Bickle’s hateful ideas.”
The Cruz campaign’s initial response, however, was to say it “welcomes support” from faith leaders across the country, including that of Bickle, Cruz adviser Nick Muzin told Jewish Insider. “My understanding is that he was paraphrasing the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah. I know that he has made support for Israel and the Jewish people a central part of his mission.”
Bickle addressed the controversy himself over the weekend in an op-ed on The Times of Israel, where he expressed his commitment to the State of Israel and sought to clarify his ideas.
“Let me make clear,” Bickle wrote. “What Hitler did was evil, an utter atrocity to the Jewish people and to all of mankind. The creation of the modern state of Israel after the Holocaust is a testament to God’s enduring love for His beloved people.”
“I have been and remain committed to the spiritual and material defense of Israel and the Jewish people, as is my ministry,” he went on. Later in the article, he added: “For those times when I have communicated my beliefs poorly, I apologize.”
Bickle also said that Cruz’s record of supporting Israel played an integral role in his decision to support the Texas senator’s presidential run.
“When I was considering an endorsement of Ted Cruz, his record on Israel was central to my decision,” he wrote. “I noted the way Cruz brought evangelical leaders and Jewish organizations together in a valiant effort to stop the Iran nuclear deal. I observed that no candidate for president has a stronger record than Cruz on standing with Israel, fighting radical Islamic terrorism, and combating anti-Semitism in the world. I could not and would not have supported Ted Cruz unless I were confident that he supported Israel.”
Cruz originally announced Bickle’s support through a press release with almost a week until the Iowa caucuses, a contest where support among evangelicals helped Cruz edge out real estate magnate Donald Trump, who had previously been ahead in the polls.
The next Republican primary contest will take place in South Carolina on February 20, another state where evangelical support is seen as critical. Cruz is currently polling in second place behind Trump, who is leading him by nearly 20 percentage points.