Onward, Christian Zionists
The fastest growing Israel support group in America.
Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
In Washington, D.C.’s convention center they danced the horah, sang Hebrew songs, and waved American and Israeli flags. Charlie Daniels played Hatikvah on his fiddle. It wasn’t a bar mitzvah, or a gathering of the pro-Israel group AIPAC. It was the fifth annual summit of an even larger pro-Israel organization, the nation’s largest: Christians United for Israel, better known as CUFI.
Photo Credit: AP, Sebastian Scheiner
A few hours before addressing the convention, its founder, Pastor John Hagee, explained how CUFI came to exist. “I went to Israel in 1978 as a tourist with a group of people from my church and I came home a Zionist,” he said. “I felt the presence of God in the city of Jerusalem like no place on earth.” Praying at the Western Wall, he realized he had to “do everything in my power to bring Christians and Jews together in an atmosphere of mutual esteem and acceptance.”
At first, he didn’t know how to begin. But in 1981, after an Israeli airstrike blew up the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, “the American media went after Israel hammer and claw. I saw the door of opportunity open. I told my wife as we watched the television with the news anchor berating Israel and Menachem Begin, ‘We are going to have a night for Israel.’ ”
Hagee approached the local Jewish leaders to suggest a gala fundraiser. He deadpanned, “They looked at me like I had a serious and contagious rash.” Hagee won them over, held a news conference with an orthodox rabbi announcing the event, and “within hours started receiving death threats at the church. We had the night for Israel, and it was terrific.” When a bomb threat came, he remembered declaring, “If these gun-toting anti-Semites think they can shut us down by threatening us, we are going to do it every year until they get used to it!”
Through his ministry and then with the founding of CUFI in 2006, Hagee has been at it ever since. “CUFI began with 400 evangelicals in February 2006. Today we have 426,000 members.” The purpose of the group, Hagee said, was to give “every pro-Israel Christian and Christian church the opportunity to stand up and speak up for Israel.” When they lobby on Capitol Hill, he said, his members “ask the leadership of our government to stop putting pressure on Israel to divide Jerusalem and the land of Israel.”
Since 2006, CUFI has held hundreds of events nationwide, raising $43 million for humanitarian work (including that of Migdal Ohr in Galilee which serves disadvantaged youth and the Kiryat Yam absorption center for Ethiopian Jews) and inspiring Christian support for the Jewish state. Pastor Scott Thomas of Lakeland, Florida, explained that thousands have rediscovered the “Judeo part of our faith.” He recalled a Tampa Night for Israel that raised money for flak jackets to protect IDF troops in Tiberius, and a night in Pensacola that bought a bomb shelter for residents of Sderot, the small town on the receiving end of rockets launched by Hamas from Gaza.
Now, with the Iranian nuclear threat growing, relations with the Obama administration tumultuous, and assaults on Israel in international bodies a daily occurrence, Israel can use some real friends. At the banquet, Senator Joe Lieberman—he introduced himself as “your brother Joseph”—observed that this “is a time when the people of Israel feel more vulnerable and isolated than in a long time. . . . But because of CUFI and Christian Zionists throughout the world the people and the children of Israel do not feel isolated from the international community of faith.”
CUFI members affirm the consonance between their faith, patriotism, and support for Israel. Thomas explains, “When I stand up for Israel, I stand up for America.” He says that his members’ religious roots bring them to support Israel, but recent events have mobilized them to confront biased media accounts, fundraise, lobby, educate fellow Christians, and pray for Israel. “The Bible directs us, but the facts inform us,” he says.
Unlike many Jewish organizations, CUFI continues to grow. Pastor Carlos Ortiz, who conducts Hispanic outreach for the group, has helped bring in 1,500 churches. Among Jews, there remains some skepticism and some outright hostility. Yet Hagee noted progress among those Jews whose support for Israel is grounded in their faith. “There is a level of comfort between Christians and Jews who believe in and accept the Torah as the word of God.” His own devotion is an expression of his Christian faith. He explained: