Christians United for Israel
Established in 2006 with the "active assistance" of the Christian evangelical fundamentalist, Jerry Falwell,, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is a US-based Christian-Zionist lobbying organization founded by John Hagee. The CUFI lobbies US congress to support Israel for biblical reasons. CUFI has focused the majority of its lobbying efforts on garnering support for Israeli settlement expansion and military action on Iran. Christian Zionists are known to be more conservative than many Jews on Israeli domestic policy issues such as West Bank settlement expansion which many supported and Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip which they opposed. Hagee has stated that he would like to see CUFI become "the Christian version of AIPAC."Max Blumenthal, "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism", The Nation, 8 August 2006</ref>
Founded just months before Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006 (during CUFI's banquet launch Hagee protested against calls for Israel to show restraint), CUFI lobbies for US support of Israel because the Bible requires Christians to give unconditional support to Jews who are the "chosen people." While Hagee once boasted about a message of support CUFI received from the Bush Administration during an event, CUFI's "action alerts" are now focused on pressuring the Obama administration to pursue better relations with Israel:
- We need to act now to remind President Obama that what we share with Israel is deep and profound. We need to stand with the only democracy in the Middle East. We need to speak up for our vital ally in the struggle with militant Islam. We need to provide some perspective to an administration that seems to lack it.
Officially, CUFI states 2 goals on its website:
- "To educate Christians about the Biblical and moral imperatives about supporting Israel."
- "To Communicate Pro-Israel Perspectives to our Neighbors, Newspapers and Elected Officials."
Support for Israel
CUFI argues for Christian support of Israel for biblical reasons, but they have been criticized for supporting the Jewish people in Israel only to the extent that it will serve their end purpose of being allowed into heaven after the battle of Armageddon:
- But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses commanded."
Other analysts have argued that whatever their reasoning may be, the pro-Israel lobby can use groups like CUFI to push a pro-Israel agenda in the US, regardless of its effects on US foreign policy:
- This situation is this, AIPAC sort of found a fortuitous relationship with people like Pastor John Hagee whose Church I spent a lot of time with over the course of the research for this book. People like Hagee are what you call Christian Zionists and they believe that in order to properly prepare for the upcoming end of the world, America needs to align itself strongly with Israel in order to prepare for the final Armageddon in which the forces of good, which is basically Israel are going to fighting against the forces of evil, which they imagine is going to be some combination of probably Russia and Iran. So you have this theology that allows American evangelical Christians to support Israel politically. And obviously this is a good thing for the Israeli state -- it sort of solves the age-old problem of how do you get American Christians to support Israeli foreign policy. Because you know, for a long time, we had Republican politicians who wanted to have a strong alliance with Israel and pursue a very aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, based around that relationship, but it was a tough sell to their natural constituents, the Christian Fundamentalists, because obviously Israel is a Jewish State. And because of the "End Time" theology, they've solved that problem by cloaking support of Israel under the auspices of this end time theology. It's not something I think they thought up deliberately, but you do have a number of these new evangelical figures like Hagee and there are a number of authors who are writing Left Behind type books, encouraging Americans to support Israel.
CUFI attempts to build alliances with key figures in Washington and Israel in order to achieve its organizational goals.
In order to grow its Jewish support base, CUFI hosts events like "A Night to Honor Israel" throughout the year in US cities, and organizes trips to Israel which are often related to Hagee's donations to Israeli projects (usually settlement-expansion focused). Founder Hagee has also reportedly paid nobel-prize-winning Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel $500,000 to give a speech to his congregation:
- For delivering one speech to Hagee’s congregation, Wiesel received a check for $500,000 toward his foundation, according to Marita Styrsky, the wife of Christians United for Israel Eastern Regional Director Victor Styrsky (Christians United is Hagee’s lobbying arm). So Wiesel got his money and Hagee got a photo with a Nobel Prize-winning Holocaust survivor. Everybody went home happy.
CUFI's largest events are attended by key US congress members who often give speeches to attendees which CUFI always reports with large numbers. Well-known figures from congress and US think-tanks which have openly supported CUFI include Joe Lieberman, Tom DeLay, Gary Bauer who serves on CUFI's executive board, Newt Gingrich, Natan Sharansky, and Elliott Abrams.
While CUFI claims to be the "largest pro-Israel organization in the United States", some analysts argue that they are a distraction from the real pushers of a pro-Israel agenda in the US. According to former AIPAC staffer turned foreign policy analyst M.J. Rosenberg, CUFI is nothing compared to the "Jewish pro-Israel lobby" because the
- right-wing Christians are Republicans. Israel tends to not even be their main issue; they have abortion and gay marriage higher on their radar. What makes the Jewish pro-Israel lobby more influential is that their people give their donations to anyone who is effective on the issue, Democrat or Republican. These people [Christian Zionists] are locked into Republicans.
In January 2015, CUFI announced that its membership had reached the two million mark, although ‘membership’ merely requires submitting an e-mail address.
Still, CUFI enjoys strong political support in the United States. At its 2014 annual summit in Washington, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) addressed a crowd of about 5,000 people.
In April 2015, CUFI, alongside others, convinced the Tennessee General Assembly to become ‘the first state legislature in the US to formally condemn the [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] BDS movement through the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 170’.
CUFI enjoys considerable support in Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often addressing CUFI conferences. He reportedly said at the 2012 summit that: ‘You refuse to accept one of the greatest lies of modern times: that the Jewish people are foreign occupiers in Judea and Samaria.’
Netanyahu was also invited to speak at CUFI's annual meeting on 13-14 July 2015.
Lobbying Congress Towards Confrontation with Iran
CUFI focuses much of its lobbying efforts on pressuring congress to stop Iran's nuclear power programme, which it claims is a threat to Israel. However, many analysts argue that based on founder Hagee's actual arguments in his books and sermons, he and other Christian Zionists hope for a military confrontation with Iran:
- While Hagee has long prophesized about the end times, he ratcheted up his rhetoric this year with the publication of his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," in which he argues that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. In the best-selling book, Hagee insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West.
According to Max Blumenthal, CUFI's call for military confrontation with Iran has helped in its coalition-building with other right-wing Republicans in Washington.
Support for Im Tirtzu
CUFI has funded Im Tirtzu, a controversial fundamentalist Zionist organisation in Israel known for its campaigns against liberal Zionist NGOs in Israel. However, in response to criticism from within the American Jewish community, CUFI has since tried to distance itself from the Israeli right, stating in 2010 that only five per cent of its budget was allocated to the settlements and that it had stopped working with Im Tirtzu.
- John Hagee - Founder and National Chairman
- David Brog - Executive Director
- Gary Bauer - Executive Board Member
- Jonathan P. Falwell (son of Jerry Falwell) - Executive Board Member
- Michael Little (president and COO of The Christian Broadcasting Network) - Executive Board Member
- Randy Neal - Directorial Board Member
CUFI on Campus
According to the CUFI on Campus website, the CUFI "actively develops politically-minded student leaders and equips them to become effective advocates for Israel on their college campus."
Funding and Finances
The Weekly Standard reports that CUFI had raised $43 million between 2006-2010. CUFI’s spokesperson Ari Morgenstern told Forward magazine in 2010 that grassroots supporters generally fund the movement, with donations averaging $18, adding that in total it had a budget in the millions.
CUFI has received funding from the following organisations:
Adelson Family Foundation | God’s Hand Extended | IDT Charitable Foundation | Marcus Foundation | Milstein Family Foundation | MZ Foundation | Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation | The Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation
Links and Resources
- PBS Feature on CUFI -- CUFI Profile
- Rightweb Profile -- Christians United for Israel
- Max Blumenthal -- Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism
- John Hagee AIPAC Policy Conference Speech -- Text of Speech
- David Brog, All Roads Lead to Jerusalem: The True Legacy of Dr. Jerry Falwell, OpEdNews, 1 June 2007
- "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism", The Nation, 8 August 2006
- Daniel Luban, "Pro-Israel Groups Push Back Against Settlements Policy", IPS, 24 July 2009
- Media Matters, "On Fox's Your World, apocalyptic pastor John Hagee claimed Iran will nuke Israel and the U.S", Media Matters for America, 17 August 2006
- David Krusch, "Christian Zionism", Jewish Virtual Library, accessed on 10 September 2010
- PBS, "Transcript", Bill Moyers Journal, 5 October 2007
- CUFI Action Alert, Urge President Obama to end Crisis with Israel, CUFI Website, accessed on 9 September 2010
- Christians United for Israel, "About", CUFI Website, accessed on 9 September 2010
- Christians United for Israel, "WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD SUPPORT ISRAEL", CUFI website, accessed on 10 September 2010
- Max Blumenthal, "Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour", Huffington Post, 26 July 2007
- Ben Cohen, "My Interview with Matt Taibbi on His Book, the Media, the Election and His Spat with Erica Jong", Huffington Post, 19 June 2008
- Christians United for Israel, "A Night to Honor Israel", CUFI website, accessed on 10 September 2010
- Max Blumenthal, "Netanyahu and Pastor Hagee’s Lovefest on Eve of Biden’s Arrival in Israel", Max Blumenthal website, 9 March 2010
- Max Blumenthal, "CUFI: Elie Wiesel Took $500K From Hagee For One Speech", Max Blumenthal website, 9 February 2010
- Glenn Greenwald, "Some hateful, radical ministers -- white evangelicals -- are acceptable", Salon, 28 February 2008
- Max Blumenthal, "Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour", Huffington Post, 26 July 2007
- Right Web Profile, "Christians United for Israel", RightWeb, accessed on 10 September 2010
- Ari Morgenstern, 'Christians United for Israel Reaches Two Million Members', Christians United for Israel, 8 January 2015, accessed 13 October 2015.
- Paul Miller, 'Jewish State Has 2 Million Friends in Christians United for Israel', Breitbart, 15 January 2015
- Sean Savage, 'Pro-Israel effort to combat BDS on U.S. state level gains steam', The Jewish Chronicle, 1 May 2015
- Casey Cheap, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Addresses CUFI D.C. Summit, Reaffirms U.S.-Israel Relationship, Red Alert Politics, 18 July 2012, accessed 13 October 2015
- Christian's United for Israel website Christian Friends of Israel. Accessed 13 October 2015.
- Christians United for Israel, "Urgent -- Contact Congress Today to Stop Iran", CUFI website, accessed on 10 September 2010
- Sarah Posner, "Lobbying for Armageddon", Alternet, 3 August 2006
- J Street website J Street on Christians United for Israel. Accessed 13 October 2015.
- Nathan Guttman, The Biggest Pro-Israel Group in America? That’s Us, Says Christians United, Forward, 8 December 2010, accessed 13 October 2015
- Christians United for Israel, "CUFI Executive Board", CUFI Website, accessed on 8 September 2010
- Christians United for Israel, "CUFI Directors", CUFI Website, accessed on 8 September 2010
- CUFI on Campus, About, CUFI on Campus Website, accessed on 30 August 2010
- Jennifer Rubin, Onward, Christian Zionists, The Weekly Standard, 2 August 2010, accessed 13 October 2015
- CUFI, "John Hagee", Christians United for Israel, accessed on 11 December 2010