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Christians United for Israel


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Created in early 2006 by Christian Right leader John Hagee, the influential evangelical pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is a Christian Zionist advocacy organization that promotes the idea that Christians "have a biblical obligation to defend Israel."1 CUFI supports aggressive U.S. action against what it sees as threats to Israel from "new Hitlers," who in the group's estimation include Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to CUFI's website, "Bible-believing Christians must speak up and stand up for Israel. We must act to do whatever we can to protect Israel's 6 million Jews from the second Holocaust. We must get it right this time. Our faith demands it. The times require it. Silence is not an option."2

Similar to the way the neoconservative group Project for the New American Century brought together different political factions behind its call for a militarist Middle East agenda (including ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq), CUFI has brought together disparate sectors of the American Right—including Christian conservatives, Republican Party insiders, and neoconservatives—behind a vision of Mideast peace that is rooted in CUFI's belief that Israel plays a key part in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. CUFI's executive board is comprised largely of conservative evangelical leaders, such as Gary Bauer, who share Hagee's belief in dispensationalism, a core idea of Christian Zionism that holds that Jews must control certain parts of the biblical "Holy Land" as a precondition for the Second Coming.3 As writers Chip Berlet and Nikhil Aziz observe, "For some Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists the text in [the Book of] Revelation is read as a timetable and script for the end times, complete with a massive battle between God and Satan on the plains of Armageddon, located in Israel."4

This idea is in tune with the neoconservative notion, shared by Israel's Likud Party, that peace agreements with Israel's neighbors that involve relinquishing territory are tantamount to rewarding terrorists.5 Because of this confluence of agendas, neoconservatives have frequently joined Christian Right figures and groups in pushing advocacy campaigns. As reporter Jim Lobe explains, the Christian Right's support for the Israeli state "explains the willingness of Jewish neo-cons to overlook the anti-Semitism of their Christian Right allies, whose own identification with Israel is based on a 'Christian Zionist' reading of Biblical scripture that recognizes a God-given right of the Jews to what both religions consider the 'Holy Land,' at least until the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ. [Irving] Kristol and other leading neo-cons have long argued that other Jews should not be offended by this alliance. 'Why would it be a problem for us?' he wrote some years ago. 'It is their theology; but it is our Israel.'"6

Neoconservative supporters of CUFI have included Elliott Abrams, the controversial State Department figure in the Reagan administration who was convicted (and later pardoned) for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. As George W. Bush's deputy national security advisor, Abrams, who has a long track record of courting Christian Right figures, discussed CUFI's Middle East agenda with Hagee at the White House after the group's first conference in Washington, DC, in November 2006.7 According to the New York Times, Hagee said he told Abrams that, "Every time there has been a fight like this [between Israel and its neighbors] over the last 50 years, the State Department would send someone over in a jet to call for a cease-fire. The terrorists would rest, rearm, and retaliate.… Appeasement has never helped the Jewish people." Abrams essentially agreed with him, Hagee said.8

Other CUFI supporters in the hardline pro-Israel community have included the Zionist Organization for America (ZOA), which gave Hagee its ZOA Service Award and Israel Award (which, according to Hagee, was presented to him by former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick)9; and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), who has spoken at CUFI events and likened Hagee to a modern-day Moses.10 One Jerusalem, a Likud-aligned advocacy group that is led by Israeli right-wing figures like Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu, has also promoted CUFI and Hagee. In January 2007, One Jerusalem hosted a conference call with Hagee, whom the group termed "an honest, sincere, and genuine friend of Israel and the Jewish people. His support should be embraced and appreciated." According to One Jerusalem, during the call, Hagee said CUFI had three main functions: "1. To provide a rapid response team of tens of millions of Christians to contact Washington, on a moment's notice, on issues pertaining to Israel. 2. To organize an annual Washington Summit that would bring thousands of Christians to Capitol Hill with the sole purpose of advocating for Israel. 3. To host a Night to Honor Israel in every major U.S. City."11

Among the Republican Party insiders who have supported CUFI are several current and former congressmen, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former House members Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Tom DeLay (R-TX). In July 2007, McCain, who received Hagee's endorsement during the 2008 Republican presidential primary, spoke at the group's Washington meeting to warn of threats from Iran and dire consequences if the United States withdraws from Iraq. He also used his opportunity with a CUFI audience to publicly affirm his Christian beliefs. According to MSNBC, "The Arizona senator concluded his remarks by commenting on his own faith.… He said that his own personal religious beliefs helped get him through his time in a Vietnamese prison camp, telling a story of a guard who drew a crucifix on the ground for him when he was allowed to go outside on Christmas Day one year."12

One of the themes at the 2007 CUFI conference (whose attendees included Santorum, Delay, Lieberman, and Gingrich)13 was the threat of Islam and—in an appropriation of the language of fear promoted by neoconservative writers like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes—"Islamofascism." "The lure of a sympathetic crowd and the chance to trade pieties with the most popular televangelists in the nation attracted Sen. Joe Lieberman and ex-senator Rick Santorum," the American Conservative reported. "Each preached to the converted: Islamic-fascism is the most dangerous threat facing the United States, and Israel is the frontline."'14 One conference attendee, sharing her experience at the conference, wrote in a letter to the Concord Monitor that she learned there are "eight known terrorist groups in the United States ready to strike." The most "eloquent and striking speech," according to the letter writer, was made by Newt Gingrich, who claimed to worry every day because "Iran has sworn to wipe Israel off the map with a nuclear or biological attack; after that, the U.S."15

CUFI's profile in Washington rose quickly after it was established, according to writer Max Blumenthal. "Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is 'a biblical imperative,'" Blumenthal reported in August 2006. "CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah."16

Some Jewish congregations in the United States have been harshly critical of CUFI. At the April 2008 conference of the Union of Reform Judaism, the group's president Eric Yoffie warned against allying with groups like CUFI. Pointing to Hagee and other Christian Zionists who reject a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Yoffie said, "What they mean by support of Israel and we mean by support of Israel are two very different things."17 Yoffie's remarks drew a quick rebuke from the Zionist Organization of America, which issued a press release praising "Pastor Rev. John Hagee, the Evangelical Christian leader and head of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), following attacks upon him by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism."18

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Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.

Sources

1. Christians United for Israel.

2. Christians United for Israel.

3. Christians United for Israel Executive Board; Neela Banerjee, "For McCain, Little Talk of a Controversial Endorsement," New York Times, April 8, 2008.

4. Chip Berlet and Nikhil Aziz, "Culture, Religion, Apocalypse, and Middle East Foreign Policy," Right Web, December 5, 2003, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/848.html.

5. For an analysis of neoconservative views on Middle East peace issues, see Stephen Green, "Serving Two Flags: Neocons, Israel, and the Bush Administration," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2004.

6. Jim Lobe, "What Is a Neoconservative Anyway?" Asia Times, August 3, 2003.

7. David Kirkpatrick, "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is 'God's Foreign Policy,'" New York Times, November 13, 2006.

8. David Kirkpatrick, "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is 'God's Foreign Policy,'" New York Times, November 13, 2006.

9. "John Hagee Biography," All Things Christian, http://all-things-christian.com/atc/item.From-Daniel-to-Doomsday-The-Countdown-Has-Begun-Hagee-John.9780785268185.htm; "Pastor John Hagee," Christians United for Israel, http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_pastor_john_hagee.

10. Max Blumenthal, "Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour," Huffington Post, July 26, 2007, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/rapture-ready-the-unauth_b_57826.html.

11. "Bloggers Conference Call with Pastor John Hagee," One Jerusalem, January 25, 2007.

12. Andrew Merten, "McCain on Iraq, Iran, and His Faith," MSNBC, First Read, July 7, 2007.

13. Max Blumenthal, "Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour," Huffington Post, July 26, 2007, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-blumenthal/rapture-ready-the-unauth_b_57826.html.

14. Michael Brendan Dougherty, "Zealous for Zion," American Conservative, August 27, 2007.

15. Barbara Elms, "Perilous Times," Concord Monitor, September 15, 2007.

16. Max Blumenthal, "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism," The Nation, August 8, 2006.

17. Hana Levi Julian, "The Fight for Jerusalem Begins," IsraelNationalNews.com, April 7, 2008.

18. "ZOA Praises Pastor Hagee's Support for Israel," Zionist Organization of America, April 11, 2008.

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