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Jews for Jesus head defends speech

From NBC's Aram Roston
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The executive director of Jews For Jesus -- a group that tries to convert Jews to Christianity -- said in an interview with NBC News that when he spoke at Sarah Palin's congregation Aug. 17, he did not mean to imply that God was punishing Israel for not believing in Christ.

"What we see in Israel, the conflict that has spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment," David Brickner told an audience at Wasilla Baptist Church that included Palin. He added that when his son visited Jerusalem, "He was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment -- you can't miss it."

The blogosphere and others have jumped on the issue because Jews For Jesus has sometimes been criticized by mainstream Jewish political leaders, some of whom consider it offensive and anti-Semitic.

But Brickner defended the comments and said critics are wrong when they claim he was implying that terror is a result of Jews not accepting Jesus.

"That's not what I was saying," he said. "That's not what I believe. The violence is evidence that sin has marred our human condition and because of sin and non belief, God's judgment rests on all humanity. And that's why God had to send Jesus, the Messiah to deal with the problem of the sin. And actually he became sin, and God judged him.… "I believe that violence is the natural outcome of the human condition, that sin has blinded the whole world to the truth of God in Jesus Christ."

The McCain campaign acknowledged Palin was in attendance when Brickner spoke, but stressed Palin does not support Brickner's message.

"This was a guest at the church who Governor Palin did not know would be speaking," said McCain-Palin spokesman Taylor Griffin. "Gov. Palin does not share the views he expressed, and she and her family would not have been sitting in the pews of this church for the last seven years if his remarks were even remotely typical."

Additionally, Brickner said he had not met Palin, who during the Republican National Convention spoke with the influential pro-Israel lobby, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

But Brickner told NBC News that Palin's pastor is a strong supporter of his mission.

"Larry Kroon is a supporter and friend of Jews for Jesus," he said, "and a personal friend of mine."