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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
October 2005 > Katrina

Operation Blessing and Citgo: Charitable Organizations?

In August of this year televangelist Pat Robertson, host of the hour-long 700 Club daily TV show on a Disney network, really outdid himself. Now Pat's not just another TV preacher. He's the son of a U.S. senator, a Phi Beta Kappa, a graduate of Yale Law School, the founder of the Christian Coalition, the Republican winner of the Iowa presidential caucuses in 1988, a multimillionaire and possibly a billionaire, and a recipient of the State of Israel Friendship Award from the Zionist Organization of America for consistent support of Greater Israel.

He's done and said a great many outrageous things over the years. Apparently to retain access to gold and diamond mines, he's been an outspoken supporter of African dictators such as Liberia's Charles Taylor,  who'd been indicted for war crimes by the UN and accused of harboring al Qaeda terrorists. He's claimed to have prayed hurricanes away from his Virginia Beach headquarters and toward more sinful targets. In 1999 the Virginia attorney general concluded that Robertson solicited more than $1 million for Rwandan relief through his Operation Blessing charity, only to deliver supplies to Robertson's diamond mines, not to Rwandan massacre survivors.

His most publicized gaffe was August 22, 2005. On his TV show, he was musing on how to get rid of the elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, which had earlier staged an ultimately unsuccessful coup to depose him. Chavez is a populist and a socialist who, as the legally elected president of an oil-rich country, is currently outraging his right-wing critics by offering low-cost heating oil and gasoline to the American poor. Robertson claimed Chavez threatened the United States by making Venezuela a launching pad for "communist infiltration," which seems to be Robertson's take on subsidizing oil for poor people, and "Muslim extremists," which seems to be a total red-herring, in that Muslims in historically Roman Catholic Venezuela probably number in the dozens. Apparently referring to Saddam Hussein and Bush's war in Iraq, Robertson advocated assassination as being "a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."

This advocacy of abrogating the Ten Commandments from a self-proclaimed man of God became a week of news clips, as one right-winger after another, from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to Republican senators to coreligionists, took the podium and the microphone to distance themselves from the stench of Robertson's comments.

"Finally," thought devout people of all faiths, "Robertson has been revealed to the world as the consummate hypocrite, a man who's into religion for the money and the power and not to serve God. No longer will we hear that he's predicting God's sending a meteor to punish Disney World for admitting gays. Surely his opportunity to create mischief around the world is gone." But no, that is not so, as I learned while watching television coverage of the New Orleans tragedy. If I thought Robertson had any credibility with God, I might suspect that he was responsible for aiming that hurricane at the French Quarter, but I don't. However, Robertson is poised to add lots more money to his pile of ill-gotten wealth.

One only need look at the official FEMA list of approved organizations for aiding people left homeless and hungry by the winds and waters. It's on the government websites and constantly on the news shows, which warn us about email solicitation scams and bogus charities and direct us to send our money to only those groups on the official FEMA list.

Surprise! Right there on the first page is Operation Blessing, Pat Robertson's outfit that promised to aid the homeless and hungry of Rwanda but instead aided his diamond mines' profits. So as we rage against the soulless theocracy running our country for shoveling money at Halliburton instead of reinforcing the levees, for telling people who didn't own cars to evacuate after Greyhound had stopped running buses out of town, for sending the disaster-relief National Guard abroad to fight the administration's war of choice, and for being incapable or unwilling to provide even drinking water to 100,000 trapped fellow citizens, even now our government is urging us to send every available penny to engorge Pat Robertson's stuffed coffers.

I've protested to my local newspaper, my favorite columnist, my senators, and my congressman. Still, even as I type, MSNBC is urging me to write a check to Pat Robertson.

- Joy Matkowski

Publisher's Comments: Robertson backpedals now by saying, "I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our special forces should 'take him out.' And 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping; there are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him." However, his original quote did include a reference to "assassination" namely: "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack defended Robertson on August 23 saying "Robertson has the right of any private citizen to say whatever he wants."

However, does "any private citizen" have the right to threaten someone with assassination?

Ironically, the U.S. government, after touting the "humanitarian" work of Operation Blessing, has done nothing to thank the Chavez administration for their support of the U.S. despite Robertson's remarks. 

Update: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to make free eye surgery and discounted gasoline available to poor Americans, and he extended his offer to include water and food as well as fuel for the victims of Hurricane Katrina:

"We place at the disposition of the people of the United States in the event of shortages ... water, food, ... fuel," Chavez tells Associated Press.

Chavez says fuel can be sent to the United States through a Citgo refinery that has not been affected by the hurricane. Citgo is owned by Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. He also offers to send aid workers to the Gulf Coast.

The first shipment of gasoline was scheduled to arrive September 25 at Port Everglades, Florida. This 240,000 barrel shipment on the tanker B/T Energy Pride represents one-quarter of the Venezuelan commitment in addition to Petroleos de Venezuela's normal shipments. The remaining three shipments are expected to arrive no later than October 31.

Venezuela’s geographic proximity to the United States and PDVSA’s relationship with CITGO permits a much quicker response than could be achieved by other countries in Europe, the Middle East or Asia .

See also: Katrina Relief: FEMA Urges Donations to Pat Robertson (NJDC)