At GOP convention, Jewish delegates cite Israel and style in backing Trump

On the day Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican primaries, Marc Zell was ready to resign his position as vice president of Republicans Overseas, the party’s expatriate group.

Zell, who lives in Israel, was put off by Trump’s inconsistent statements regarding the country. In particular, he felt insulted when Trump, at a Republican Jewish Coalition forum last December, said, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” He felt that the Republican front-runner at the time preferred boasting about his own prowess over concrete discussion of policy. It felt too risky.

Now, sitting in a downtown hotel here, Zell wears a Trump pin on his suit jacket lapel and defends the presumptive nominee’s positions on Israel with passion, his eyes focused and his voice intensifying.

On Thursday, Zell will support Trump as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

“The Obama administration has allowed daylight to appear between the two allies,” said Zell, who is also co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, a branch of the larger organization. “Trump is against that and he’s said it more than once. He’s shown a sensitivity to the Israeli position that we never saw before a month ago.”

Zell isn’t alone in his transformation from Trump doubter to ardent supporter. Interviews with some 20 Republican delegates and convention participants — Jewish and not — showed party loyalty and optimism about Trump. Even more common was the distaste for his opponent, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which overshadowed any ambivalence about Trump’s more inflammatory statements.

These supporters see Trump as a refreshingly honest voice and a successful businessman. Echoing Trump backers nationwide, the delegates said they appreciated his departure from the kind of cautious speech they called “political correctness.” A few said he understands the anger of his voters like few other politicians have. Kenneth, a delegate from Texas who declined to give his last name, said Trump “speaks for the Americans fed up with government.”

Several said they see him as more trustworthy than experienced politicians, someone who won’t be hesitant to fight corruption. Delegates called him “fresh,” “independent” and someone who “tells it like it is.”

“I am all in,” said Judy Jackman, an alternate delegate from Texas who is a member of Christians United for Israel. She wore a pin Monday that compared Clinton to a fried chicken.

“What is wrong with giving a businessman a chance to deal with the corruption in D.C.?” she asked. “I like that he knows how to say ‘you’re fired.’ There are too many people who are bought and paid for.”

And Trump is good for Israel, delegates said — or at least better than Clinton, who they see as a threat to the Jewish state. Even as they defended Trump’s Israel policy, delegates spent more energy lambasting his rival and the Democratic Party for what they see as betraying Israel. (Pro-Israel supporters cite as an example the deal meant to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which was approved largely along party lines.) Republicans, in their view, would do no such thing.

“I think the Jewish community should look at the big picture,” said Gary Howell, a delegate from Michigan. “The Democrats, the last eight years, have not been friends of Israel. Republicans are much more prone to support Israel.”

Trump, who at the outset of his campaign alarmed the pro-Israel community by speaking about being “neutral” in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, chose as his running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is more typical of the hawkish pro-Israel supporters in Congress. The Republican Platform Committee also approved last week a plank removing the party’s commitment to a two-state outcome — to the delight of right-wing pro-Israel delegates.

Still, Trump’s critics have charged that he’s been dog-whistled to white supremacists throughout the campaign and has not done enough to disavow the support of anti-Semites like David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Trump brewed controversy earlier this month when he tweeted an image of a Star of David and piles of money that many viewed as anti-Semitic and originated among white power web users.

But Trump’s Jewish supporters look past the controversies to see him as someone with a record of working with a range of people, regardless of religion or race. A New York businessman, a few said, will be able to work with anyone. A few noted that he has senior employees — and a daughter — who observe Shabbat.

“He’s always promoting people whether they be African-American, gay, Jewish,” said Jeff Sakwa, the co-chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, who is Jewish. “He has minorities that represent him. He’s been so successful in New York, which is one of the most liberal states around.”

Not all delegates have reconciled themselves to Trump. Mike Goldman, an adviser to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who serves on the state’s Republican Executive Committee, supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primary and said he wasn’t sure who would get his vote in November.

“Most of the invective has been against Hispanics and Muslims, but when you start singling groups out, it’s only a matter of time before someone goes after us,” he said, referring to Jews. “We’re less than 2 percent of the population.”

But Peter Goldberg, an Alaska delegate who was raised Jewish in Brooklyn, New York, said he identifies with Trump’s provocative way of speaking. Trump, he said, just reminds him of his childhood neighbors in the Flatbush neighborhood.

“He’s a New Yorker,” Goldberg said. “Doesn’t he talk like a New Yorker typically talks? He comes across brash. That’s just New York. That’s good by itself. I can relate to it, but I can understand why people outside of New York might not.”

Christians United for Israel reaches out to Mideast Jews in online programs

In May, “Why Are There Still Palestinian Refugees?” a new educational video produced by the website and the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization, was released on social media sites retelling the story of the more than 850,000 Jews who during the 20th century either were expelled or forced into exile from Arab and Islamic countries. 

The video, which has garnered more than 1 million views on, is the first in a series of brief programs that are a part of CUFI’s new Mizrahi Project. The effort was launched this spring to help educate Christians and others about the plight of Jews from Arab lands and Iran and to strengthen their pro-Israel advocacy efforts.

“Like much of the world, most Christians are completely unaware of the story of the Mizrahi Jews,” said Pastor Dumisani Washington, CUFI’s national diversity outreach coordinator, who is spearheading the Mizrahi Project. “They are somewhat aware of the Holocaust, but do not know that more than half of Israel’s Jewish population came from North Africa and the Middle East.”

According to Norman Stillman’s 1991 book, “The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times” (Jewish Publication Society of America), from 1948 to the late 1970s, more than 800,000 Jews living in Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen had been either forced by Arab regimes to leave their homes in Arab countries or fled on their own to escape being killed in anti-Semitic attacks or other forms of persecution. Often Jews were forced to leave Arab countries where their ancestors had lived for centuries, and their properties and assets were confiscated by Arab regimes. 

Habib Levy’s book “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran: The Outset of the Diaspora” (Mazda Publishing, 1999) states that the vast majority of Iranian Jews, who once numbered 80,000 in the country, fled in the years after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. According to estimates from Iranian Jewish community activists in Los Angeles, today fewer than 5,000 Jews remain in Iran, and many continue to leave each year.
During the past nearly 70 years, Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran have primarily resettled in Israel, as well as in parts of Europe and North America. 

Washington said one of the main objectives of the Mizrahi Project video series is to empower CUFI activists on college campuses and elsewhere to more effectively fight ongoing anti-Israel campaigns in their school communities.

“Knowledge of the Mizrahi Jews gives a more accurate account of the Arab-Israeli conflict, making an even stronger case for the need for a Jewish state,” said Washington, who also appears in the first Mizrahi Project video online. “For example, knowing that the Jews of ancient Babylon or Iraq today were persecuted and expelled during the Farhuds of the early 1940s is evidence that the current conflict is not truly about territory.  It’s about hatred for the Jewish people.” 

Likewise, in an effort to more accurately tell the story of Mizrahi Jews who were exiled or fled Islamic countries after 1948, Washington said he and CUFI members have reached out to Mizrahi Jewish communities across California and nationally to tell their stories.

“I’m a believer that one who has actually experienced something can make the most compelling case for it,” he said. “I have personally interviewed many members of the Mizrahi community, both in Israel and the United States, and have found them to be among the most passionate and articulate supporters of the Jewish state.”

In January, Washington spoke to nearly two dozen Iranian-Jewish activists at the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) in West Hollywood. He asked community activists to participate in the Mizrahi Project by sharing in videos their experiences of anti-Semitism and of escaping from Iran. 

“We decided to cooperate with CUFI because as Jews from the Middle East, whenever we see any organization, Jewish or non-Jewish, that is seeking to strengthen Israel and do advocacy on her behalf, we feel a responsibility to support their efforts,” said Susan Azizzadeh, IAJF president.

Recording oral history is not a new endeavor for the local Iranian-Jewish community. In the mid-1990s, the L.A.-based Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History, with the help of volunteers, conducted more than 100 video and audio interviews with Iranian Jews who had influenced Iran’s history, literature and culture in some way since 1906. Also in 2009, the local Iranian-Jewish nonprofit 30 Years After (30YA), launched the “Our Legacy” project, videotaping nearly 100 older Iranian Jews who shared stories of painful experiences in Iran during and after the 1979 Islamic revolution. 

30YA’s leadership said with the increasing threat of the Iranian regime’s quest for nuclear weapons, it welcomed the opportunity to work with any group that might educate the public about their families’ difficult experiences in Iran and the threat the Iranian regime poses to the world.

“As American Jews of Middle Eastern descent, we are a minority among a minority that should be building bridges across the religious and political spectrum and welcoming bonds with organizations like CUFI that are expressing an interest in our community’s history and future,” said Sam Yebri, 30YA president.

Some board members at the Iranian Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills said they also are willing to work with CUFI on the Mizrahi Project, as their congregation has in the past forged friendships with other pro-Israel Christian groups. Nessah’s past President Simon Etehad said just last year the synagogue hosted an event about Israel advocacy issues featuring evangelical Christian Pastor Robert Stearns and Jewish Journal President David Suissa, which drew nearly 400 attendees.  

“There has been a major failure on our part to show what we, the Jews, who were thrown out of our homes, are also refugees who were truly model citizens — just like the Christians who are now being massacred and forced to flee their homes in Arab countries today,” Etehad said. “We should have played the refugee card, not to gain benefits, but rather, to explain that you don’t remain a refugee forever.”

Perhaps the greatest Jewish community support for the Mizrahi Project has come from the San Francisco-based Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), nonprofit that for the past 15 years has been trying to raise public awareness about the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran through lecture series, cultural events, documentary films and community outreach programs.

“Including the issue of Mizrahi refugees into discussions and education regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict adds nuance and complexity,” said Sarah Levin, JIMENA’s executive director. “At its core, this is a human rights and justice issue and my hope is that it won’t become just another ‘hasbara [public relations] talking point’ thrown into overly polarized public discourse about the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Levin said the stories of Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern countries have long been overlooked by the larger Jewish community, and perhaps the CUFI Mizrahi Project will shed light on their experiences among Jews and non-Jews.

“The 850,000 former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa deserve recognition and redress for their heritage and for their losses,” Levin said. “My greatest hope is that CUFI will empower their constituents with not only the story of Mizrahi refugees, but also with the rich legacy and contributions of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.”

Mizrahi activists living in California said they are pleased by CUFI’s project.

“We need to get our history, our stories, our trajectory out there — and Pastor Dumisani is doing what the Jewish community, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, has not been willing or able to do,” said Rachel Wahba, a Mizrahi blogger and activist based in San Francisco. “I have been writing and pleading for the Ashkenazi mainstream to hear our story, to ‘use’ our (Mizrahi) story to debunk the lies about Israel being a white colonial enterprise.”

Wahba said for years she has been sharing with various small audiences her family’s stories of forced exile from Iraq and escape from Egypt, as well as how she and her family were stateless refugees for nearly 20 years, living in Japan and seeking asylum in the U.S. Wahba also said she hopes the pain her family and other Mizrahi families endured as Jewish refugees from Arab countries will finally be brought into the limelight with CUFI’s new project.

Other local Mizrahi activists said their stories should be shared with Christians worldwide, as similar calamities are befalling thousands of Christians in the same Arab countries — many of them being killed or forced out of their communities.

“I firmly believe that greater discussion in small and large groups of Christians can be more effective with personal stories about lives of Jews in Muslim countries,” said Joe Samuels, an Iraqi-Jewish activist living in Santa Monica. “It can also bring awareness about the ethnic cleansings of Christians.”

There has already also been tremendous interest from CUFI members about the Mizrahi refugee stories, and Washington said he will likely also ask the project’s participants to speak to CUFI’s college-age members and at other CUFI events about their experiences.

“Our ‘CUFI on Campus’ leaders and pastors were very intrigued by the initial presentation we made at our annual student conference in January,” Washington said. “I strongly believe that, as this topic becomes a staple in Israel advocacy on college campuses, it will help our students make an even stronger case against the delegitimization of Israel — especially during [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaigns.” 

In the coming months, CUFI will continue to gather testimonies from Mizrahis with the plan to produce many more for the Mizrahi Project, Washington said.

Evangelicals, Jews and politics

On a Christian radio show last week, former Minnesota Representative and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann expressed her opinion that the End Times will soon be upon us, and that:

“We recognize the shortness of the hour, and that's why we as a remnant want to … help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He's coming soon.”

Bachmann is certainly welcome to her opinion, but during a time when the GOP is making headway into the Jewish vote, her words are fodder for Democrats desperate to show their Jewish base that they can’t trust Republicans, especially regarding Israel.

This is exactly the kind of talk that can give Jews, especially American Jews, the creeps. It speaks directly to our deep-seated fears and insecurities, stemming from the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

The reason Bachmann’s comments are so jarring is that most Jews thought, or hoped, we had left the better part of this behind.  In 1965 Pope John XXIII’s Nostra Aetate stopped blaming me personally for Easter; and later, Cardinal Ratzinger would help to demote evangelizing the Jews significantly in the Church’s priorities. 

In 1967, Israel’s astonishing victory in the Six Day War secured her existence a mere 19 years after independence, forcing many Christians to re-examine their assumptions about Jews and their alleged perpetual exile.  Indeed, Christian Zionists such as Pastor John Hagee, whose Christians United For Israel is the largest pro-Israel organization in America, are solely focused on the safety and security of the Jewish State and the wellbeing of the Jewish people.

For some Jewish liberals who still prioritize the safety and security of Jews in Israel and abroad over progressive issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage, comments such as Bachmann’s are what Democrat operatives will use to appeal to Jews disenchanted by the Obama administration’s abandonment of Israel and courtship of Iran.  

The head of the National Jewish Democratic Committee, Greg Rosenbaum, lost no time in calling into question the sincerity of all Christian Zionists:

In the 83 percent that support Israel, what are their motives? Are they supporting Israel as a natural homeland for the Jews and to some extent a reaction to the millennia of persecution? Or are they in support of Israel because it represents the avenue for people who are evangelicals to get to heaven?

I’ve always said, you’ve got Evangelical Republicans supporting Israel because they are building a stairway to heaven on the backs of the Jews in Israel. We don’t get to go with them, unless—as Michelle Bachmann said over the weekend—all of the Israeli Jews convert to Christianity, as soon as possible. So you have to look beyond the numbers to really understand how the parties shake out in support of Israel.

The partisan attack prompted a sharp rebuke from the Jewish Federations of North America, not generally regarded as a bastion of right-wing Christian apologetics: “Federations work closely with pro-Israel churches and church leaders across the continent. We strenuously object to any characterization that calls into question their motives for supporting the state of Israel.”

Christians United For Israel is demanding Mr. Rosenbaum apologize “to the millions of Christians he stereotyped and slandered.”

“Under what rock has this man been living? I simply cannot believe that in 2015 he still publicly professes such smug anti-Christian bigotry. As a people who have suffered so much from lies about our faith, we should be the last to traffic in lies about the faith of others,” David Brog, CUFI board of directors, told the Salomon Center.

Under such fire, Rosenbaum later tried to wriggle out of the comments, claiming he had specifically meant Bachmann herself, but one might be pardoned for questioning the sincerity of the clarification.

Understand, Bachmann neither holds office nor is a candidate for one.  She holds no position of power within the Republican Party.  She heads no PAC of any consequence, and her personal political following is minimal at this point.

At the same time, Al “tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” Sharpton, organizer of an anti-Jewish riot that resulted in the murder of Jewish rabbinical scholar Yankel Rosenbaum, is a regular visitor to the White House, and Hillary was his first guest on his new Sunday morning time slot.  Attempts to get the National Jewish Democratic Committee to comment on that have been to no avail.

So the irony is that the Left will play on this as evidence of the precariousness of the Jewish position in American/Christian society, while Obama has done the most to increase that marginalization.

Joshua Sharf is a Fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and is head of the PERA project at the Independence Institute, a Denver based free-market think tank. Follow him @joshuasharf.

Christian Zionist group launches lobbying fund to oppose Iran pact

When the last plaintive shofar blast echoed through the Washington Convention Center at the conclusion of the annual Christians United for Israel Policy Conference, it was not the record attendance of 5,000 fired-up pro-Israel Christians that marked a turning point for the 10-year-old group.

Instead, it was the July 13 briefing by CUFI Executive Director David Brog, and Gary Bauer, a national CUFI leader, for a half-dozen journalists — this reporter among them — that revealed a muscular new role for the organization.

CUFI has spun off a ready-to-rumble political lobbying arm called the Christians United for Israel Action Fund. Its inaugural effort will be to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, which was announced earlier this week and is now being reviewed by Congress. “Not only has Iran not stopped its support for terror, it has not been asked to stop its support for terror,” Brog said during the briefing.

Working independently of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the CUFI fund promises to deliver its national reservoir of 2.2 million Christian Zionist followers.

Bauer said that even though the fund has yet to find office space and is still hiring for positions, multimillion dollar funding is already in place. Job one, according to Bauer, is providing daily reports to every congressional office detailing flaws in the Iran nuclear agreement, which CUFI argues necessitate a no vote.

In addition, the fund plans to mobilize core supporters across the country to create “centers of influence of local pastors and businessmen … leaders in their communities,” who are in a position to sway members of Congress.

Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder, was quoted this week in The Washington Post as saying: “Every person running for office [in 2016] is going to be aware we have 2.2 million households. If I were a candidate especially in the Republican Party, I’d be aware of how many voters will cast their vote principally on Israel.”

The briefing, which took place around a circular table in a small nondescript room in a roped-off corner off the lobby at the CUFI conference, held July 13-14, made clear that the CUFI Action Fund did not intend to employ AIPAC-style bipartisanship. Bauer called President Barack Obama “the most anti-Israel president in the history of Israel.”

The new effort is Brog’s second major announcement this month, after he was recently selected to head up the new $50-million Campus Maccabees initiative. The goal of that effort, which is being funded by Jewish billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, is to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS.

During the CUFI briefing, held the day before the nuclear deal between world powers and Iran was announced, Bauer pledged the new lobbying arm would work 24/7, and not just as part of the annual national conference. “You can’t just bomb Washington, D.C. three days per year. You have got to actually occupy territory,” he said.

Brog said the new fund would make clear to every member of Congress that the Iran deal must be voted down.

The fund will insist that an arms embargo on Iran be held rigidly in place. Moreover, he insisted, any deal must bear a term of more than 10–12 years. “If a nuclear Iran is unacceptable now — barring regime change, it will be unacceptable a decade from now,” said Brog.

At the conference, Israel Defense Forces Lt. Tzur Goldin, the twin brother of IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was kidnapped and killed by Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war, asked the crowd to push to make the return of his brother’s body a condition for allowing the Gaza Strip to be rebuilt.

Major Israeli and American political figures also spoke, including Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, who is running for president. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appeared via video link.

Interview with Pastor John Hagee, founder of ‘Christians United for Israel’

Last month Christians United for Israel (CUFI) – the largest pro-Israel organization in America with nearly 1.8 million members (and 1.2 million Facebook followers – 15 times as many as AIPAC) – held its ninth annual Washington Summit, with 4,800 delegates from all 50 states. Founded in 2006, CUFI has held more than 1,700 pro-Israel events, including 260 formal “Nights to Honor Israel;” now hosts about 40 pro-Israel events a month; has a campus organization at more than 300 colleges; publishes a magazine; and run an active website. The Summit featured Prime Minister Netanyahu (on video); Ambassador Ron Dermer; five U.S. senators; former CIA director James Woolsey; columnists Charles Krauthammer, Dennis Prager, and William Kristol; several IDF members; and many others. The delegates lobbied their Congressional representatives (the principal talking point: any final deal with Iran must deny it not simply a nuclear weapon, but a “nuclear capability,” because “allowing Iran to develop all of the components of a bomb so long as they don’t put these components together is not a solution”).

Following the Summit, CUFI ran a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and 15 other major American newspapers, quoting the provisions in Hamas’s charter asserting that Islam will “obliterate” Israel; that there is no solution except “jihad”; and that the Jews must be killed – and setting forth CUFI’s response: “Israel’s Enemies Are Our Enemies/ Israel’s Fight is Our Fight/ We Stand with Israel.” CUFI then sent 51 pastors on a four-day solidarity mission to Israel – one from each state and the District of Columbia. They prayed at the Western Wall; visited the parent of one of the Israeli teenagers murdered by Hamas; traveled to Sderot on the Gaza border; met with key public figures; and attended an IDF briefing, among other activities. 

Last week, CUFI issued an “action alert” after reports were published that the White House had blocked routine weapons transfers to Israel while Hamas was waging its war against it. Within two days, over 30,000 CUFI members had personally emailed President Obama to demand he reverse that stand.

During the 2014 Summit, CUFI’s founder and leader, Pastor John Hagee – now 74 and showing no signs of slowing down – gave me an exclusive interview. The following are excerpts from the 30 minute conversation.

Q: [W]hen you started this effort back in 2006 for CUFI, did you anticipate where you would be today, with an organization of this size, with five U.S. Senators [addressing the Summit and with thousands of delegates from across the country]?

PASTOR HAGEE: I would have to say that the day we did it, on February 6, 2006, I did not know the fire and the enthusiasm that would sweep across the Evangelical community.

I invited to my church, Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, 400 of the leading Evangelicals of America. These were the presidents of universities, the owners of radio and television networks; these were the pastors of the mega-churches, and the leading televangelists, and I was not confident that we would get through the day without extreme controversy. 

[I told them] we must meet with the Jewish community on the basis of mutual esteem, love and respect. And you could have heard a pin drop. These are the leaders of leaders, and they don’t lead easily. I expected a floor fight to break out of mega proportions.

I said, “How many of you will support me on this issue?” Four hundred hands went up – like they were hooked to one wire. And I said, “The Lord, Himself, is in this house, because that’s a miracle.” It was a miracle. At that moment in time, I saw a supernatural wind take this organization much further than I had envisioned it the day before. Because when you have that kind of horsepower unified, nothing is impossible.

And there are 60 million of us in America, so we are just beginning, but I told them, I said, “Let’s go to Washington. We want to go to Washington once each year, and face the Senators and Congress members, speaking out for Israel. I said, “So let’s, kind of as a pilot program, let’s go to Washington and let us see what that’s like. I said, “How many of you have ever been to Washington speaking out for Israel?” Two of us. “I said, OK, let’s go.”

So, they went home and started telling their church members about it, and without organization or anything else, 3,500 people showed up that first time.  It was four months down the road and that’s the night when it dawned on me, “We have lit the torch on an issue that has the ability to be globally significant in the defense of Israel.”

Q: Can you take me back a little bit further to tell me how all this started for you … Can you give me a little insight into your earlier years, how you became who you are, and got to the point that you’d be at the Western Wall; can you give me some insight into what led you there at the age of 48?

PASTOR HAGEE: I am a sixth generation pastor. My father was a pastor, my grandfather was a pastor. They were Bible scholars par excellence, and my mother and my father – my mother went to Bible School herself, and taught – but both of them had an abiding affection for the Jewish People because of the Scripture. Everything we did in my home was whether it was okay with the Bible.

So, who are the Jewish People in the Bible? They’re the apple of God’s eye. They’re cherished, they’re Covenant People. So, I had that background of being affectionate — or have affection for — the Jewish People for their contribution to Christianity, because the Jewish People have given to us the Word of God, they’ve given to us the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – they’ve given to us the Old Testament Prophets, they’ve given to us the First Family of Christianity, they’ve given to us the Disciples, the Apostles – that’s why Jesus said in John 4:22, “Salvation is of the Jews,” because if you take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity, there’d be no Christianity. Judaism does not need Christianity to explain its existence. We cannot explain our existence without your existence.

And so, when I went to Israel in 1978, I knew that I wanted to do something to help the Jewish People. And so, it really didn’t happen until Menachem Begin gave the instruction to destroy the nuclear reactors of Iraq [in 1981] and the American media went after Israel tooth and tong. And I said, “This is our opportunity to really, truly, do something for Israel. And so at that exact moment in time I told [my wife] Donna we’ll have a Night to Honor Israel and I went to my church and I said, “This is what I want to do,” and they said, “Yes, we’re with you.”

And I went to the Jewish Federation and … I looked at them and I said I want to have a Night to Honor Israel, and they said, “What’s that?” and I laid it out. They said, “We’ll have to have a committee meeting, and they had three committee meetings, and one lasted late into the night at which Rabbi Sheinberg said, “You know, look, as Jews we know how to handle our enemies, but what if this guy’s a friend?”

So we went forward with a Night to Honor Israel, and we had a press conference that it was going to happen, and within an hour of the newspapers hitting the streets we started getting death threats at the church, “Tell the preacher we will shoot him by Friday. He will never live to see the Night to Honor Israel held in that auditorium.” I called the FBI and asked, “What do you guys do when something like that happens?” and they said drive [a different route] every day to work. I thought, “Well, you have to go to the FBI Academy to learn how to do that?”

So the people in my church became very concerned with these death threats.  They said, “This is dangerous” and I said, “It is, but we’re going to do it.” We went to the auditorium, the Lila Cockrell Auditorium in downtown San Antonio, September 10, 1981, to have the first Night to Honor Israel in the history of our city. And the building was packed, people standing in the lobby. There was enough tension in the room to give a brass doorknob a migraine headache.  I mean, it was tight.

And we had our choir there singing Hebrew songs on our television and cameras rolling. My idea was to take this video and send it to the largest 200 Evangelical churches in America and get this thing started. I sent out 150 invitations to the local pastors to come, and got one positive response. So I knew then that it was going to be a little tougher getting started than I thought.

So, we had a wonderful night. I mean, Heaven just came down and kissed the Earth. It was very special. And at the end of the program, the security guy came up to me and said, “We’ve got a bomb threat on this building. It’s supposed to blow up in five minutes.” And Rabbi Sheinberg was praying the benediction. He mercifully didn’t pray very long, so I went to the podium and I said, “I hate to end this wonderful night on a negative note but we have a bomb threat on this building.” …

I only intended to do a Night to Honor Israel one time, but because of all of the push-back that the anti-Semites gave us, I said, “There’s a real problem here that needs to be addressed.” So, I walked off the platform that night with my wife in one hand and the Consul General of Israel in the other, and I said, “We are going to have a Night to Honor Israel every year until they get used to it.”

And it got bigger and bigger, and we took it to national television, because I was on national television 37 years, and global television for 22 years, and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and then in 2006, because of the strength of the Night to Honor Israel, we started Christians United for Israel.

Q: And have you experienced physical threats, or other threats over the last nine years?

PASTOR HAGEE: On a regular basis. That’s why I have all the security people with me, all the time. I live with them.

Q: [Your emphasis on the] failures of Christianity during the Holocaust – is that something that came from your theology, or from your parents, who would have lived through that and taught you? Where did that come from?

PASTOR HAGEE: Well, basically, it came from the research that I did.  Whenever I went to Israel – I did in 1957, I had two university degrees at that time, and one of them was in theology. I’d never been taught about the Crusades, never been taught about the Spanish Inquisition, never really been taught about the theological base of the Holocaust, which was that the Jewish People had no place in the economy of God.

The day we left the Wall, I went to the Harp of David and bought about three or four hundred dollars worth of historical theological works out of that bookstore, and saw the failure of what was called “Christianity” to defend the Jewish People, and it was so blatant, so obvious, so persistent, so pervasive and then it dawned on me that Replacement Theology that was, at that time, sweeping America, is nothing really but theological anti-Semitism. Replacement Theology is that the Jewish People have been replaced by the Church and no longer have standing in the economy of God. And when I started rebutting that over television, it started a firestorm. The resistance of pastors and so forth that was beyond description. 

But the beauty of television is that you can get into people’s homes. And if you can get into their homes, you can get into their minds, and I got into their minds with the Bible. “This is what the Bible says. I don’t care what your preachers say, I don’t care what your denomination’s teaching. This is what God’s point of view is.”

And it took several years, but people got it. And then when we started Christians United for Israel, the foundation had been laid, and it took off. And we’re now getting ready to shift into high gear. I think it’s really getting ready to take off in a greater dimension than 1.8 million people.

Q: What do you anticipate in the next few years in terms of “taking off”?  What’s your vision, what do you think is going to happen?

PASTOR HAGEE: Here’s what we want to happen.

We would like to continue the Nights to Honor Israel in every major city, the Pastors’ conferences in every major city, teaching them their responsibilities to speak up for Israel; the continuous growth and development of our college and university programs that are taking the fight to the next generation, because anti-Semitism is a flourishing thing on America’s college campuses, and we are in over 300 universities right now.

And in the future, we would like to open a Washington office that has the ability on a daily basis to communicate with Congress members and Senators concerning the needs of Israel as we see it, and to become a daily influence on the policies of government as it relates to the State of Israel.

With jabs at Obama, CUFI lobbies for Iran sanctions, end to P.A. aid

With sharp jabs at the Obama administration, Christians United for Israel launched its annual Washington rally with appeals to Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran and cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority.

David Brog, the group’s executive director, said CUFI regarded the Iran nuclear talks as a failure and would back legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would impose new sanctions immediately. The Cruz measure is tougher than legislation already under consideration that would trigger sanctions only if the talks fail.

Brog acknowledged that Cruz’s bill has little chance of success but said it was time to declare the talks a failure.

“Enough was enough,” he said.

The six months of talks between Iran and the major powers, led by the United States, were extended Friday for another four months until Nov. 24, with all sides saying there had been progress toward a sanctions-for-nuclear-rollback deal.

Brog said the activists, numbering nearly 5,000, also would advocate Tuesday, the conference’s lobbying day, for a cutoff in funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as unity talks with Hamas continue. Israel’s government opposes a cutoff in part because of its security cooperation with the P.A.

“We’re very strict about not dictating policy to the Israeli government, but when it comes to money from our government, we do feel a little more entitled,” Brog told JTA.

The unity talks were launched in April, precipitating the collapse of the peace talks with Israel. With Israel and Hamas locked in conflict in the Gaza Strip, the status of the unity talks is unclear.

The CUFI activists who gathered Monday in the cavernous Washington Convention Center heard from pro-Israel leaders and lawmakers, including Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); and the organization’s founder, Pastor John Hagee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a recorded video message. The organization conferred an award on casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have been major backers of pro-Israel and conservative causes.

The tone of the conference veered between joyful praise of Israel, with Christian choirs singing Israeli classics in Hebrew, and harsh criticism of the Obama administration, with Hagee attacking the president and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Referring to the collapsed peace process, Hagee said, “John Kerry, you can park your State Department jet in the hangar, your efforts to win the Nobel Prize at the expense of Israel has failed.”

Dermer focused on the Gaza conflict in his speech, saying that the Israeli army deserved “a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The ambassador parried anti-Israel hecklers who had infiltrated the hall – “There is a section for moral idiots at the back of the room,” he said — and thanked the Obama administration for its support during the recent conflict.

A number of lawmakers, including Cruz, addressed the group on Tuesday.

George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus

Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

Christians honor Israel

Hundreds gathered in Beverly Hills on April 28 to hear from John Hagee, the Evangelical pastor who founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI), at the organization’s second annual Night to Honor Israel in Los Angeles. 

Speaking to a mostly Christian audience, some of whom had arrived on coach buses from across Southern California, Hagee told his well-rehearsed story of becoming a Zionist during a 1978 visit to the Western Wall and urged the crowd to join him. 

“We as Christians have gathered in this place tonight to say that supporting Israel is not a political issue, it is a Bible issue,” said the founder and senior pastor of the 20,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. “We believe that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.” 

Long inspired to bring Christians together with Jews to support Israel, Hagee, 73, held the first Night to Honor Israel in 1982 in San Antonio; he founded CUFI in 2006. The organization now holds more than 40 such events every month in cities across the country. 

CUFI has more than 1 million members who reliably contact and lobby their representatives in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the group’s single issue: strong U.S. support of Israel. Programs like the one on Sunday night at the Saban Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard are designed to reinforce the commitment of the group’s supporters and to recruit new members from the country’s Evangelical Christians. 

“We’re not preaching to the choir, we’re rallying our troops,” CUFI Executive Director David Brog said, as audience members waved the American and Israeli flags they’d been given at the theater’s front door. 

The crowd did include a few Jews, likely put at ease by CUFI’s conscious decision to set aside theological differences with Jews in order to lend support to the Jewish state. CUFI maintains that it does not aim to advance any particular Israeli policies, but Hagee made clear in his speech that he personally objects to any partition of either the land of Israel or Jerusalem. 

If Hagee’s message was simple and straightforward, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, attempted to convey in 35 minutes the complexity of the Middle East today. 

The ongoing “Arab upheaval,” Hoenlein said, is actually a conflict between Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood over who will control the region. 

“And what’s blocking them? One little piece of land,” Hoenlein said, referring to Israel. “One little bastion of democracy is stopping all of these evil forces from achieving their ends.”

CUFI role in Hagel opposition shows conservatives’ resolve to stop confirmation

Chuck Hagel has made strides in his bid to secure Senate confirmation as defense secretary, winning the endorsement of leading Jewish Democratic senators and meeting with the leaders of major American Jewish groups.

But conservative pro-Israel opposition remains fierce, bolstered by the pivotal role being played by Christians United For Israel, the Texas-based group founded by Pastor John Hagee.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the first senator to come out against Hagel’s nomination, did so at Hagee’s behest, both men revealed on Monday.

CUFI’s affiliated Action Fund also has rallied hundreds of Christian pastors and leaders to Washington this week to lobby against the former Nebraska senator’s bid to succeed Leon Panetta.

And on Tuesday, as the pastors were swarming Senate offices, CUFI published four ads in states where Democratic senators are thought to be vulnerable in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina.

“We pray you vote against confirming Senator Hagel,” said the ads, addressed to each state's senators.

“These are states in which we believe our opposition to the Hagel nomination is deeply and widely held, and we believe that it is crucial that these senators be made aware of where so many of their constituents stand on this nomination,” David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, told JTA in an email.

At a gathering Monday for more than 400 Christian activists from 46 states who came to Washington for the anti-Hagel lobbying, Hagee revealed that he had asked Cornyn to oppose Hagel weeks before President Obama had made the nomination public.

“The next morning, Senator Cornyn called the Washington Post and made a courageous stand to oppose the Hagel nomination, which is detrimental both to America and Israel,” Hagee said.

The stated opposition of Cornyn, the minority whip, helped spur other Republicans to oppose Hagel, a Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1997 to 2008. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, has since said he is opposed, as have a number of other Republicans.

In his remarks Monday, Cornyn went over Hagel's much-reported past remarks: describing a “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers; advocating direct outreach to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah; and expressing skepticism of unilateral sanctions on Iran and the use of a military strike to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who suggests we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran,” Cornyn said.

Hagel has walked back many of these positions and apologized for the “Jewish lobby” remark. But Cornyn said he believed they were part of what he called a “confirmation conversion.”

In his efforts to tamp down the pro-Israel opposition to his nomination, Hagel has won support from some of the leading Jewish pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, as well as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

The Vietnam War hero also has the support of liberal Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and J Street. On Wednesday, J Street was set to join Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on a conference call backing Hagel.

Hagel also has met with leaders of centrist pro-Israel groups, several of which had expressed concerns about his candidacy, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The groups described the meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.”

Democrats control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats and sources close to Hagel have said he is hoping that his longstanding friendships with some Senate Republicans will be enough to get the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster.

Meanwhile, conservative Jewish groups have worked to keep up the pressure.

Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition posted a web video featuring Democrats and Jewish organizational leaders expressing concern about Hagel. The Emergency Committee for Israel similarly ran a full-page ad in the New York Times on Jan. 15. The Zionist Organization of America is lobbying Senate offices.

Sheldon Adelson, one of the GOP’s most generous donors and an RJC board member, has called senators directly to make the case against Hagel.

“We've made a strategic decision to gin up as much support among our leaders to reach out to the folks,” said Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director.

Pro-Israel figures join ad endorsing Hagel as defense secretary

A number of prominent pro-Israel Jewish figures joined an ad endorsing Chuck Hagel for the U.S. defense secretary post.

Meanwhile, Christians United for Israel announced plans to bring 200 pastors and other Christian leaders to Washington to lobby against Hagel's confirmation, according to

The pro-Hagel ad appearing Wednesday in The Hill, a Capitol Hill daily, said the former Nebraska senator would “ably continue security cooperation between the United States and the State of Israel, which has reached unprecedented levels during President Obama’s time in office.”

Among the 45 signatories to the ad, which was organized by the Israel Policy Forum, were former ambassadors to Israel and a number of public figures known for their pro-Israel activism as well as involvement in Democratic politics. They included former Congress members Mel Levine, Gary Ackerman and Robert Wexler; Stuart Eizenstat, a former top official in the Carter and Clinton administrations who helped broker Holocaust reparation agreements; Rabbi Sharon Brous, who founded the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles; Tom Dine, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and the philanthropist Charles Bronfman.

Hagel in recent weeks has met and conversed with Jewish leaders, apologizing for a 2006 interview in which he referred to a “Jewish lobby” that was “intimidating” and making clear his support for for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He also told the leaders of his support for sanctions on Iran and his willingness to resort to a military strike as a last resort to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

In the CUFI announcement, spokesmen for the group said the delegation would meet with staffers in the offices of all 100 U.S. senators and would arrive under the aegis of its affiliate, the CUFI Action Network.

CUFI has joined other conservative groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Zionist Organization of America and the Emergency Committee for Israel in pushing against Hagel's nomination because of his past skepticism of unilateral Iran sanctions and past wariness of military engagement with Iran.

A number of liberal Jewish groups, like the Israel Policy Forum, have endorsed Hagel, while a number of mainstream centrist groups have expressed concerns about his nomination but not formally opposed it.

John Hagee: Christian pastor with a Zionist message

It’s become a standard part of John Hagee’s stump speech, the story of how the evangelical pastor and founder of the 1.2 million-member Christians United For Israel (CUFI) first got started on the path of Israel advocacy.

It began with a trip to the Holy Land in 1978 — “I went to Israel as a tourist and came back a Zionist,” Hagee told the mostly Christian crowd of more than 1,000 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. And then grew into something bigger with the Israeli airstrike that destroyed the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981.

“Israel has done the world a favor, and they should be complimented, not criticized,” Hagee said, recalling his reaction to the negative media coverage that followed the Israeli preemptive strike.

That was the inspiration for the first “Night to Honor Israel,” held in 1982 in Hagee’s hometown of San Antonio. He founded CUFI in 2006; today the rapidly growing organization stages about 40 “Night to Honor Israel” events every month in cities around the United States.

In some cases, the events amount to infusing a regular midweek religious service at a local church with a pro-Israel agenda. But at the Saban, CUFI staged its first “Night to Honor Israel” to take place in a non-church venue in Los Angeles, precisely at a time when Israel might be poised to, as Hagee would call it, do the world another favor.

Consul General of Israeli in Los Angeles David Siegel also spoke: “Iran today represents the genocidal hunter, they are on the prowl and they are calling for the destruction of my people, day in and day out,” Siegel told the crowd. “And after 20 years of trying to deal with this diplomatically, it is time to say, enough.”

Last month, Hagee told The Journal’s senior political editor Shmuel Rosner that he is not satisfied with the United States’ current regime of sanctions against Iran; from the audience’s applause, it appeared Hagee’s supporters in Los Angeles found his tougher stance — which is more closely aligned with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s — more to their liking.

What the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — a lobby singularly dedicated to supporting Israel — is to the American Jewish community, CUFI aims to be for American evangelicals. Both pledge to support the policies of any Israeli government in power, regardless of party, and, to that end, CUFI does not take an official position on the two-state solution. In Hagee’s view, any decision about creating a future Palestinian state should be made by Israel alone.

“God is angry with every nation that does anything to divide the land of Israel; that includes the United States of America,” Hagee said.

The pastor’s position is even more uncompromising on the matter of Jerusalem.

“President Obama told the Jewish people in Jerusalem they could not build homes in East Jerusalem,” Hagee said. “The truth is, Barack Obama has absolutely no authority to tell the Jewish people what they can and cannot do.”

When the applause from the crowd died down, Hagee continued. “Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for the past 3,000 years. That’s before Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago.”

Given such comments, it’s hardly surprising to find that Hagee has Republican fans.

“I was amazed and impressed,” Ron Plotkin, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s board of directors, said as he left the Saban Theatre. “I had heard some great things about [Pastor Hagee]; he lived up to all the expectations.”

Having Jews in the audience at CUFI events is of the utmost importance to this organization, which has taken pains to try to reassure Jews that they do not seek to convert them to Christianity.

The members of CUFI, inspired by the passage in Genesis in which God tells Abraham “those who bless you will be blessed, those who curse you will be cursed,” appear genuinely to want to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.

To that end, CUFI has set up more than 100 campus chapters at colleges and universities across the country, in an effort to “level the playing field,” Randy Neal, CUFI’s western coordinator, said. All the money collected at Sunday’s event was directed to CUFI’s efforts to reach out to college students and impact the debate over Israel on American campuses.

“If they’re going to put a fake apartheid wall up on the quad, then we’re going to put a faux Western Wall up on the quad,” Neal said. “And instead of putting prayers on the wall, we’re going to put up signs that show the incredible contributions that Israel’s made to the international community.”

Neal mentioned Israeli contributions ranging from “agriculture, technology, communication, medical, environment, energy,” but his reference to the Western Wall is telling, as that location clearly holds pride of place, not just in the Jewish psyche, but for CUFI as well.

Hagee calls the Western Wall one of his favorite places in Israel, and one of the few videos shown at the event that featured views of Israel — it played near the middle of the evening, as ushers walked the aisles with silver plastic buckets in their hands ready to collect donation envelopes — made generous use of shots of the Western Wall.

As a Christian rock band on stage played the theme song from the film “Exodus” (“This land is mine / God gave this land to me”), the screen displayed Jewish men at the wall swaying and praying in prayer shawls. They lifted Sephardic Torahs and shook their lulavs.

The scenes at the wall were, as it turned out, the primary representation of contemporary Israel in the video. Most of the rest of its footage had been pieced together from black-and-white reels that appeared to be at least 50 years old, showing haggard-looking Jews kissing the earth and, immediately after, folk-dancing Israelis, moving at the slightly sped-up pace of old-style newsreels.

In Christian version of AIPAC, CUFI draws 5,600 to Washington for pro-Israel lobbying

Seven years on, many Jews still have lingering questions about the addition to the pro-Israel lobbying scene of Christians United for Israel, the project of evangelical leader Rev. John Hagee.

Hagee believes he has a biblical mandate to press on and is undeterred.

“As Isaiah said, ‘For Zion’s sake we will not hold our peace and for Jerusalem’s sake we will not rest,’” Hagee told more than 5,600 delegates at the opening plenary Monday of the CUFI Washington Summit 2012.

The summit stands as something of a Christian version of the annual Washington policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Like the AIPAC conference, the CUFI summit includes a day of lobbying and here, too, the Israeli prime minister is a guest speaker – albeit via satellite.

“We will not be intimated by any person, by any groups of people when Israel is on the line. We are the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America,” Hagee said to thunderous applause and a few shofar blasts. “The covenant that God made with Abraham is eternal and it cannot be repealed by the president of the United States, by the president of the United Nations.”

Hagee created CUFI in early 2006 after calling 400 fellow pastors to meet him in San Antonio “to form a national organization that could give national unity on behalf of Israel.”

Today, CUFI claims more than 1.1 million members, 754,000 Facebook fans and 96 college campus chapters. It has held events around the country and in Canada, Kenya, Israel and Scotland, according to Hagee.

About one in five Americans – some 60 million people—consider themselves evangelicals, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. A 2005 Pew study found that 41 percent of evangelicals favor Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict versus 13 percent favoring Palestinians (20 percent said they didn’t know; 18 percent said neither, and 8 percent favored both).

Yet many Jews view CUFI’s rank and file, who are overwhelmingly but not exclusively evangelical, with suspicion. Only 21 percent of American Jews surveyed earlier this year by the Public Religion Research Institute said they view the “Christian right” – often a synonym for evangelicals – favorably. By contrast, 41 percent view Muslims favorably.

The Jewish views on evangelicals come in large part from long-standing concerns over proselytizing and end-time theologies that foresee that Jews who do not accept Jesus as their savior will be killed.

Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, said Jews should embrace evangelical support even if they don’t embrace their theology.

“It’s important for the Jewish community to welcome support for the State of Israel but not necessarily have to agree on every aspect of that support,” Marans told JTA.

Two years ago, the AJC brought together Gary Bauer – a prominent CUFI executive board member—Marans and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly to talk about evangelical support for Israel.

For his part, Hagee has said repeatedly in interviews that proselytizing is unacceptable for CUFI members.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who addressed the CUFI delegates during a session on the importance of Christian Zionism, told JTA that he has personally spoken with Hagee about the matter and believes him.

Both Christians and Jews believe they are living out God’s mandate and that their understanding of the messiah is correct, said Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi in the West Bank community of Efrat and founder of the Israel-based Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation. “They have the right to believe that because I believe at the end of days all of the Christians will convert to Judaism,” he said.

“Christian Zionism is a tremendously important because now we’re in the midst of a religious war,” Riskin said. “There are 1 billion-plus Muslims and there are 2 billion-plus Christians. For us, Christian friendship is critical. ”

Among the Jewish presenters at the conference were Sen. Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.); former George W. Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer; Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

For participants at the CUFI convention, Jews were secondary; the focus was on Israel.

During a break between sessions on Monday, a choir stood in the center of the large hallway and harmonized songs praising God for his protection of Israel. Nearby, shoppers perused items for sale in the CUFI store, including white onesies for babies with the words “Defend America; vote Israel,” stainless steel rings with the Hebrew Shma prayer and T-shirts with this quote from Isaiah: “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.”

Elsewhere in the building, some of the children ages 5 to 12 who had come with the evangelical delegates were busy at Camp CUFI, where activities included Israeli dancing, “pray for Israel” sessions and an Israeli movie and entertainment.

Hagee repeatedly has stressed in interviews that CUFI will not oppose decisions of the Israeli government in peace talks, including if it agrees to relinquish portions of the West Bank.
However, the sentiments of many CUFI followers seemed clear.

“The entire territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean” is God’s “gift to the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, who three decades ago helped Hagee organize his first Christian Salute to Israel event, to strong applause. “It is not stolen land. It is the eternal heritage of the Jewish people.”

Hagee told the crowd, “The Bible is a Zionist text beginning with the fact that God created the world and as the owner of the world he entered into a contract with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants forever and gave them the land. Israel does not occupy the land, they own the land!”

The three-day summit will conclude Wednesday with lobbying of participants’ congressional representatives. The delegates will focus on stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, U.S. security aid for Israel and stopping Palestinian incitement.

John Hagee: Evangelical Christians are the ‘front line’ for Israel

Declaring that evangelical Christians are “on the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America,” the Rev. John Hagee brought delegates to the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit 2012 to their feet with loud cheering and even the sounds of shofars being blown.

“We’re united in the belief that all Bible-believing Christians have a Bible mandate to support Israel,” Hagee, founder of the 7-year-old group, which has been dubbed the Christian AIPAC after the American Israel Public Action Committee, said in his opening address Monday at the Washington Conference Center. “The Bible is a Zionist text beginning with the fact that God created the world, and as the owner of the world he entered into a contract with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants forever and gave them the land. Israel does not occupy the land, they own the land.”

Hagee, who said CUFI now has more than 1.1 million members, has stressed repeatedly in interviews that CUFI will not take a position on what Israel’s government decides in negotiations with the Palestinians. He also made it clear that his group will continue to press the government of Israel’s cause in Washington.

“We have a Bible mandate to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to speak out in the defense of Israel,” he said. “As Isaiah said, ‘For Zion’s sake we will not hold our peace and for Jerusalem’s sake we will not rest.’ We will not be intimated by any person, by any groups of people when Israel is on the line. We are the front line of defense for Israel in the United States of America.”

He added, “The covenant that God made with Abraham is eternal and it cannot be repealed by the president of the United States, by the president of the United Nations.”

Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, a friend of Hagee’s for three decades, helped the Christian leader organize the first Christian Salute to Israel event, which was held in San Antonio, Texas. He was less indirect regarding his views toward Israeli control of the West Bank, which incorporates the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.

“The entire territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean” is God’s “gift to the Jewish people. It is not stolen land. It is the eternal heritage of the Jewish people,” he told the audience to strong applause.

The three-day summit will conclude Wednesday with participants lobbying their congressional representatives. The delegates will focus on stopping Iran’s nuclear quest, U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, U.S. security aid for Israel and stopping Palestinian incitement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the audience via satellite on Tuesday afternoon.

Breakout sessions after the opening plenary include “The Basics of the Arab-Israeli Conflict”; “Christian Zionism: It’s History and Importance”; and “The Looming Threats—Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas.”

Jewish leaders speaking at the sessions include Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat; Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America; and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”

Beck to address CUFI conference

Glenn Beck will keynote the 2011 Christians United for Israel conference.

Beck’s appearance as a keynoter at the Washington Summit of the group in July was posted this week on CUFI’s website.

The volatile talk show host, who announced this week that he is leaving the show he hosts on Fox News Channel, has passionate Jewish detractors and supporters.

Liberal Jewish groups have slammed him for abusing Holocaust imagery—for instance, in likening “social justice” movements to the Nazis—and for falsely accusing George Soros, a billionaire liberal philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, of collaborating with Nazis.

More recently he has peddled theories that closely parallel anti-Semitic tracts, positing the control of the international economy and culture by a cabal. In these cases, many of the “villains” Beck names are Jewish, but he does not identify them as such.

Jewish defenders note Beck’s strong pro-Israel credentials; he was one of the only U.S. news media personalities who focused intensely on the brutal murders last month of five members of a family in a West Bank settlement.

A CUFI e-mail blast to followers describes Beck “as a leading spokesman in defense of Israel and the Jewish people. No matter what your political leanings, there can be no denying the depth, sincerity and importance of Glenn’s stand for Israel.”