JERUSALEM — Israel has suspended contact with U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson for suggesting that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.
The controversy has cast doubt on plans to build a Christian tourism center.
The decision, announced Wednesday, does not affect Christian groups that also consider it their spiritual duty to support Israel.
Israeli leaders see the Christian allies as tireless lobbyists in Washington and elsewhere. The evangelicals also send millions of dollars each year to support Jewish settlers in the West Bank and -- before last year's pullout -- the Gaza Strip.
Tourism Minister Abraham Hirchson said he had given instructions to "stop all contact" with groups associated with Robertson. Last week, Robertson suggested that Sharon's stroke was a blow for "dividing God's land" with the withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements.
Robertson leads a group of evangelicals who have pledged to raise $50 million to build a Christian Heritage Center in Israel's northern Galilee region, where Jesus is said to have lived and taught.
Hirchson had predicted that the center would draw up to 1 million pilgrims a year, generate $1.5 billion in revenue and support about 40,000 jobs.
But the fate of the project is now in question, said Ido Hartuv, a Tourism Ministry spokesman.
"We will not do business with him, only with other evangelicals who don't back these comments," Hartuv said.
A spokeswoman for Robertson declined to comment.