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There are plenty of possible reasons for what Robertson's spokeswoman referred to as his "apology". Belated civility, humility and public-relations savvy come to mind. Robertson may also have been heeding criticism back in the States, some of the most scathing from fellow evangelical leaders who suggested that he is now a marginal figure—despite a television audience reported to be 825,000 strong. Richard Land, a key figure in the powerful and conservative Southern Baptist Convention, pronounced himself "appalled."
But equally crucial in jump-starting the preacher's path to apology may have been a sharp response by the Israeli government and the attendant threat to his leadership in a project he has worked hard to realize. Robertson, a leader in the evangelical branch that supports Israel's existence as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies anticipating Christ's return—hence his dismay at its "division"—has many interests there. Most notably, he is collaborating with the Israeli government and a group of evangelicals to build a $50 million Evangelical "heritage center" on the Sea of Galilee. Israel was to provide the land and infrastructure for the project, leaving the funding and the center's details to the evangelicals, of whom Robertson is the best-known. The arrangement is unusual, says Zev Chafets, who is now writing a book about the relationship between Jews, evangelicals and Israel and is a former spokesman for the late premier Menachem Begin. "In the past," he notes, "Israel has been extremely reluctant to turn prime land over to Christian organizations."