Focus U.S.A / Whatever happens, Israel can always count on U.S. evangelicals

Thousands of Christian activists descended on Washington this week in a show of strength by America’s pro-Israel Christians.

Natasha Mozgovaya

Thousands of Christians from across the
United States descended on Capitol Hill on Thursday in order to lobby
Washington lawmakers on behalf of Israel.

Organizers of the event, called Christians
United for Israel, showed their strength by lobbying over 85 percent
U.S. Congress offices.

Delegates at the Christians United for Israel conference, Washington June 21, 2010

Photo by: Haaretz

of this year’s gathering are visibly different from those in the past:
about one in five of the 5,000 participants was from a Hispanic Church.

“Last year we had about 300 Hispanics, but
this year we started specific outreach to the Hispanic churches where
Spanish is a language of worship”, says David Brog, the executive
director of CUFI. “We have started an outreach to African-Americans. It
was always our goal to broaden our base ethnically, geographically and

Yet despite the attempt to reach out to
traditionally left-leaning minority groups, Democrats are few and far
between at the conference.

“We are determined to be bipartisan,
we always invite Democrats but typically we get better answers from the
Republicans”, says Brog.

Democrats’ reluctance might have something to do with CUFI’s relations with activists on the right wing of Israeli politics.

In May, CUFI leader Pastor John Hagee wrote
in an op-ed in The Forward newspaper that “we will never, never oppose
Israeli efforts to advance peace".

Yet Hagee has courted controversy with by offering financial backing to some settler organizations.

“Pastor Hagee gives away a lot of money each
year," says Brog. "Last year he gave away approximately 10 million
dollars and over 95 percent of it went to charities within the green
line. About 5 percent went to humanitarian projects over the green line.
Almost all of it went to the areas that will be within the Israeli
state following the agreement. With limited exceptions he hasn’t been a
really big supporter of settlements. It has not been a focus of his
giving and it certainly hasn’t been the focus of his advocacy."

“CUFI stands for supporting an Israeli
democratically elected government,” he said. “I noted from the audience
that a large majority at the Capitol Hill supports a two-state solution.
There is no need to get into an argument about it, that’s not our

Another controversial issue has involved CUFI’s support
for the Im Tirtzu group, which has launched high-profile attacks on the
New Israel Fund, another charity that backs a range of organizations on
the liberal-left, including Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

Hagee has a panel advising him whom to fund, which consists of three
Jewish friends of his. If you want to blame anyone for Im Tirtzu, blame
us,” said Brog. “Pastor John Hagee had never heard of Im Tirtzu. I met
the Im Tirtzu guys and they told us how they are trying to teach Zionism
in college campuses. We were impressed and they got some funding. The
decision has not been made yet about this year, but the entire issue
will be revisited in light of their emphasis last year”.

But whatever the case, CUFI remains capable of provoking anger among its opponents.

Outside the conference hall,
a small group of protesters gathered outside the conference center,
some of them from the pacifistic anti-settlement group "Code Pink" and
some with posters calling Israel “Satan” and Pastor Hagee a “Zionist

One conference participant grew visibly upset, approaching several protesters and hitting their posters with his bag

was not even talking to him, I was giving an interview to a journalist,
and this guy was coming by and swung his bag at me and then he comes to
other participants and swung it at them as well," said a protester with
the "Code Pink" group, Medea Benjamin, who intends to complain to the
police about the incident.

The delegate who assaulted the protesters
was quickly taken inside, where Pastor Hagee used his speech to slam
left-wing critics of Israel, such as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter,
who he said "should be ashamed".

“I don’t know who this
gentleman is. Like any conference, we haven’t screened people, we don’t
know them," Brog said of the incident. "I don’t know if this man was
Jewish or Christian, but obviously it’s not a very Christian response."

The scuffle was just another more sign – if
any were neede that  one Christian response Israel can always count on
is backing from U.S. Evangelicals.

“Harry Truman, who recognized Israel 11
minutes after its creation, was a member of the evangelical group
American Christians for Israel, " Israel’s ambassador, Michael Oren,
told delegates.

Sixty-two years on, it seems Israeli
governments on both sides of the poltical divide have done nothing to
diminish that support.

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