Congressman Eliot Engel is taking a steadily increasing amount of flak for his decision to attend a conference sponsored by Christians United for Israel, the organization of the controversial Rev. John Hagee.
Mr. Engel, an ardent supporter of Israel, is listed as a speaker at the organization's third annual Washington-Israel Summit in late July, along with Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Rick Santorum, and The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. He is scheduled to speak as part of a panel on the Middle East.
Mr. Hagee's organization is one of Israel's supporters in Washington, D.C. Though Mr. Hagee says he has dedicated his life to ending anti-Semitism, the Republican nominee for President, John McCain, recently rejected his endorsement amid accusations that the preacher made anti-Catholic remarks. Mr. Hagee at one point allegedly also said that the Holocaust was God's way of hastening the return of the Jews to Israel.
In a statement on CUFI's Web site, Mr. Hagee staunchly denies having made any such statements. He also denies widely circulated allegations that CUFI supports Israel largely because its members believe the state of Israel must exist in order to facilitate the second coming of Jesus Christ.
But CUFI's bad press is becoming Mr. Engel's problem. A series of popular blogs, including Daily Kos, regarded by some as required reading for progressive Democrats, have posted items pointing out his involvement in the CUFI event.
Closer to home, Sam Goldman, a member of Mr. Engel's Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, raised a fuss about it at the club's endorsement meeting earlier this month. He criticized Mr. Engel for "lending his prestige" to Mr. Hagee's organization.
Mr. Engel's chief of staff, Bill Weitz, said his boss is "discussing and debating what to do given the repercussions of what was said."