What are a few insults among friends when so much money is at stake?
Very little. At least that seems to be the thinking of the Israeli government, which has apparently found 50 million reasons to forgive the hate-spewing Rev. Pat Robertson for declaring that Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for the Gaza pullout last summer.
Money and power. That's why a bitter but powerful old rabbi can pronounce Hurricane Katrina to be "God's punishment on George Bush" for backing Sharon's Gaza move.
The rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, gets much of his funding directly from the Israeli treasury by selling Shas' votes to the highest bidder. He is a serial offender who once said the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust deserved to die because they were being punished for sins in earlier lives.
But never mind. Like Robertson, he's too useful to risk offending.
A third member of this unholy trinity is the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although not a cleric himself, he has the full backing of his superior, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has endorsed Ahmadinejad's calls for wiping Israel off the map.
This trinity shares at least one trait: All three are compulsive recidivists. Yosef's racist, sexist and political slurs are legion. Robertson, who has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and put a curse on a Pennsylvania town for rejecting the sham science of "intelligent design," crossed the line with his Sharon comments. Even the White House publicly censured him.
However, Robertson is the only member of the unholy trinity to have felt the need to apologize, though if his past is any measure, that won't stop him from doing it again. He's the guy who put "a lot of blame" for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on liberals, the federal courts, abortion rights supporters, feminists, gays, lesbians and assorted others.
Late last week - after accusing the media of taking his words out of context and repeating those words in unmistakable terms - he sent a letter of apology to Sharon's oldest son, Omri, after the Israeli tourism ministry threatened to drop him from a $50 million Christian theme park deal in the Galilee.
That hit him where it hurt.
Robertson phoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon to read his repentance. The envoy, who had earlier called Robertson's remarks unacceptable and reprehensible, gave the sinner instant absolution, and declared him "a great friend of Israel."
The message for the pandering preacher was clear - loose lips will not sink his ship.
The tourism ministry, which is keenly aware of the millions of dollars that are poured into the Israeli economy annually by evangelical Christian visitors, had a similar epiphany. Even though other evangelical leaders had quickly denounced Robertson, the bean counters know the televangelist's Christian Broadcast Network reaches an estimated 60 million people in 180 countries, often with pro-Israel messages. So what if he's also a nut case, they reasoned; he's our nut case.
The park, in the region where Jesus was believed to have preached and performed miracles, is expected to draw a million pilgrims a year; Robertson is not the only Christian participant and he is not essential to the project, according to Israeli officials, but they expect the government to quickly back down and allow him to keep a stake in the venture.
Not far from the park site is the ancient hilltop city of Tzfat, where the chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliahu, advised followers not to ask God for Sharon's recovery.
While most rabbis prayed for Sharon's health, a group from the national religious community, who last summer prayed for the premier to be struck down in order to block the Gaza pullout, declared his stroke Divine fulfillment of their prayers.
Sharon's establishment of the Kadima Party and the shrinkage of Likud, which is allied with the settler cause, is strong evidence of the shift in Israeli thinking.
Robertson and the Jewish ultra-religious nationalists want to make sure there is no Palestinian state, and the ayatollahs want to wipe the Jewish state off the map, but there's something they have in common: If the role of Satan is to undermine God and put religion to shame, this unholy trinity, who claim to be religious men, are doing a hell of a job.
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a Washington, D.C.-based columnist.