Christian Zionists lobby for US attack on Iran
Right-wing Christian Evangelicals, End Times and Israel
by JewsOnFirst, July 31, 2006
UPDATE August 18, 2006: JewsOnFirst leads discussion on CUFI's Nights to Honor Israel. See below
Links to reports and documents cited in this report immediately follow it.
Christian Zionists -- Christian evangelicals who avow support of Israel based on a belief in Biblical end-times scenarios -- are whipping their followers into a fervor in favor of an attack on Iran. In a related development, conservative commentators like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been beating the drum for a US attack on Iran, characterizing the current conflict in Lebanon as the start of “World War Three."
The calls for aggressive action against Iran wouldn’t amount to much more than laugh lines for Comedy Channel newscasts, were it not for the involvement of some highly influential, right-wing Christian evangelical leaders in a new Christian Zionist organization, Christians United for Israel, or CUFI.
Religious right groups typically support aggressive foreign policies because of their identification with the Republican Party and their interest in missionizing where the US intervenes. But CUFI, which recently brought 3,500 citizen-lobbyists to Washington, is advocating confrontation with Iran based on "cherry-picked" Biblical interpretations.
CUFI's founder, Rev. John Hagee, is leading this push for aggressive US action, purportedly based on Biblical principles. Hagee heads the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio and a big evangelical television operation. He founded CUFI in February and packed its leadership with luminaries of the religious right.
A Christian lobby for Israel
While AIPAC generally supports current Israeli government policy, Hagee and CUFI board members, including Rev. Jerry Falwell, make clear that they do not support Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, based on their Biblical interpretations. (For more on Christian Zionism, see the sidebar at right.)
Hagee has been promoting war with Iran since February. His book on the subject, Jerusalem Countdown: A warning to the world, has sold 700,000 copies, the Wall Street Journal reports. Speakers at CUFI's July 18th kickoff banquet hurled imprecations at Iran.
Esther and Iran
In June, Posner considered the impact of heartland Christocrats fired up against Iran:
While pundits and politicians in Washington debate the merits of confrontation with Tehran, Hagee and other evangelical leaders plan to activate hundreds of congregations across the country -- many of which boast tens of thousands of members -- to flood congressional inboxes with e-mails at the touch of a button. The message from the heartland, beyond the ken of elites who cannot quite imagine such a decision, will be to strike Iran before it is too late.
In an April email to CUFI supporters, Hagee used the story of Esther to mobilize his followers against Iran.
Esther went before the king when Israel was in a time of crisis because the Hitler of the Old Testament (Haman) planned to exterminate the Jews.
The Bible's book of Esther is generally understood to be drama – not a prophetic book. By assigning to CUFI a role as a modern-day Queen Esther, positioned to influence government action (Esther 4:14), Hagee has staked out rather ambitious territory.
Jewish commentators do not normally attribute such "ouiji board" interpretations to Bible verses. Indeed, Jewish commentators interpret the book of Esther as calling for more responsibility on the part of Jews for their fate. Some commentators suggest that the book may be a sly letter from the Jewish Diaspora claiming that people in the Babylonian Exile (circa 500 B.C.E.) do not need to return to Israel since they were an important "lobby" that saved the Jewish people.
Jewish leaders welcome CUFI
The next day, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Republic Jewish Coalition, the American Jewish Committee and the Israel Project sponsored a rally with Hagee near the White House, according to the JTA. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) spoke at the rally.
For the most part, Jewish leaders dismiss the evangelical Christian commitment to proselytizing when it comes to Hagee and his CUFI associates. Some believe that Israel's present situation is so dire that they pay scan tattention to the Christian Zionists' end-times motives. And Hagee has gone out of his way to put them at ease about the proselytizing.
He has met several times with Jewish organizational leaders and assured them that CUFI will not seek to convert Jews to Christianity. Before this month's CUFI meeting, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, hosted a briefing with Hagee, according to the JTA, and said he was assured there would be no proselytizing. "There’s a stipulation that everyone has to sign on to who’s attending," Hoenlein said. "There’s not missionizing and proselytizing for anyone. We don’t have to be skeptical about everything, sometimes good things do happen."
"Immoral to be involved with Hagee"
Rabbi Barry Block of Temple Beth El in San Antonio, Hagee's hometown, advocated a more sweeping rejection of Hagee, telling the JTA, "It's immoral to be involved with Pastor Hagee when many of his activities are bad for the present and future of Jewish life in America."
In a column he wrote for the JTA, Block was more explicit:
San Antonio Jews are deeply and personally affected by the actions and advocacy of Hagee and his minions. Most harmed are young people from our synagogues, attending public schools. They are proselytized at lunch and subjected to Christian prayer in their extracurricular activities. If we hear our young people’s pain — as I do, regularly — we cannot stand with the very people who inflict it.
The Christian Zionists' domestic agenda
A glance at the anti-gay, anti-choice, patriarchal, anti-First Amendment articles in Hagee's JH Magazine shows that Hagee subscribes to the standard religious right program. In an article entitled "How Free is Freedom," in the July/August 2003 issue, Hagee wrote:
Let's continue to look at our nation closely. We worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed sodomy and called it an alternative life style….In the name of "choice", we have murdered the unborn. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building "self esteem."
CUFI has brought together for its board and its regional coordinators a religious right dream team, among them: Dr. Jerry Falwell; Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Pastor Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church near Columbus; religious-right radio personality Janet Parshall; Benny Hinn of Benny Hinn Ministries in Irving, Texas; Pastor George Morrison of the 4500-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado and chairman of Promise Keepers; Kay Arthur of Precept Ministries International; Larry Huch of Larry Huch Ministries in Dallas; Stephen Strang, CEO of Strang Communications, which published Jerusalem Countdown; self-improvement book author Joyce Meyer; and Jesse Duplantis of Jesse Duplantis Ministries in Hammond, Louisiana. (Also participating as a board member is Ron Wexler, an Orthodox Jew.)
These right-wing Christian leaders command hundreds of thousands of people in the battle against gays, reproductive rights, science and, increasingly, for the establishment of Christianity as the public, if not the state, religion.
These leaders are the base and bulwark of the Republican Party. Most Jews shun the GOP, not least because it favors the rich over working families.
From its website and publications it appears that Hagee's Cornerstone Church emphasizes acquiring wealth as a sign of God's favor. Most churches and synagogues have rejected these notions as heresy.
In an interview this month with the San Antonio Express-News, Hagee all but scoffed at Jews opposed to his domestic agenda:
I think if I could put a dividing line, the Orthodox and Conservatives who have a Torah appreciation give us wholehearted support. The rest who are not driven by the Word of God have a liberal agenda.
CUFI harps on Iran
Iran was also the focus of several thousand CUFI visits to congressional offices the following day, according to the Wall Street Journal and the National Catholic Reporter.
Hagee's influence in conservative Christian circles appears not to have gone unnoticed in Washington.
It is not clear how many senators and representatives were swayed by CUFI's lobbyists. Nevertheless, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on talk shows before the CUFI lobbying day, popularized the concept of World War III, pitting "civilization and the rule of law against the dictatorships of Iran and Syria and the terrorist groups of Hezbollah and Hamas that they support." (See accompanying box)
The Jerusalem Post quoted an Israeli parliament member with strong ties to the US religious right, Benny Elon, saying that Hagee is the influence behind Gingrich's assertions.
Arizona Republican Senator and presidential contender John McCain did not reject Gingrich's predictions about "World War III" when asked about them on Larry King Live. Instead, McCain stated that "I think that it's very clear that Iran is becoming more and more belligerent and needs to be reigned in."
Ezekiel and Russian oil
In his recent interview with the San Antonio Express, Hagee said:
Very clearly, the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel Chapter 38, verse 5 mentions Persia (which is modern-day Iran) as being at the head of the class leading the torment against Israel. It starts listing the Islamic nations that will come against Israel. ... The president of Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and is doing everything in his power to get nuclear weapons to make that possible.
And there's more. Hagee went on to say:
Never mind the fact that Russia does not appear to be in need of oil – Hagee's comments have an internal logic of their own. His reference to Russia would not be considered off-message among Christian end-timers. During the Cold War, conservative evangelicals touted the Soviet Union as Satan's minion and the most likely instigator of Armageddon, just as Iran has been cast in that role now.
Cold War absolutes allowed people like Hagee to define themselves and their followers against black and white portrayals of good and evil. It's possible they may feel some nostalgia for those days; certainly asymmetrical warfare is a trickier end-times sell than a war between super powers, which truly did have the potential to launch a nuclear Armageddon.
Also underpinning Hagee's antagonistic foreign policy is hostility toward Islam. In the interview with the News-Express he said:
There are the radical Islamics who believe they have a mandate from God to kill Jews and crush the state of Israel, and there are peaceful Islamics who want peace as much as you do or I do.
In an election cycle, a couple of million right-wing Christian evangelicals hitting the ballot box while hopped up on foreign policy positions taken straight from the Book of Revelations can have a pretty negative impact too. It is disquieting to think about militant evangelicals mobilizing for Israel in hopes of hastening Armageddon at any time. But throw into the mix a combustible situation in the Middle East and election year politics, and the brew becomes especially toxic.
Recorded conversation led by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, August 18, 2006
Following up on our July 31st report above, Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst co-director, moderated a discussion about how rabbis are dealing with Christian Zionist "Nights to Honor Israel."
These "nights" are a project of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), an agglomeration of powerful religious right leaders assembled by San Antonio televangelist John Hagee. Most commonly, local Jewish federations and congregations jointly host the Night to Honor Israel with CUFI.
Participating in the hour-long conversation are: Rabbi Barry Block of Temple Beth-El in San Antonio; Rabbi Neal Katz of Congregation Beth El in Tyler, Texas; Rabbi Paula Reimers of Congregation Beth Israel in Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Prof. Yaakov Ariel of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Rabbi Jeffrey Ronald of Beth Israel Congregation in Florence, South Carolina (who was on the call, but unfortunately, the audio on his line did not work). Rabbi Beliak introduces all the participants several minutes after the recording begins.
Their discussion ranged beyond the honor-Israel nights to a discussion of Christian Zionism which touched on dissent in the Jewish community, the religious right and inter-religious relations. To listen to the conversation, please click here.
On hot day in D.C., evangelicals remind Israel that it is not alone
David J. Silverman, JTA, July 19, 2006
WASHINGTON, July 19 (JTA) — As the American Jewish community mobilizes to defend the embattled Jewish state, more than 3,500 evangelical Christians converged on Washington to remind them that they're not alone.
Representing all 50 states, delegates to the first annual Christians United For Israel summit flooded the halls of Congress on Wednesday in a spirited lobbying campaign to boost American support for Israel.
Israeli and American lapel flags were in abundance, as were red, white and blue buttons that read, "I vote the Bible."
"We as Christians have come to Washington, D.C. today, 3,500 of us, for one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is to go see every senator and every congressman and tell them that 40 million Christians in America stand with the State of Israel," the Rev. John Hagee, the group's founder, told a crowd of approximately 1,500 supporters of Israel, most of them Jewish, at a Washington rally Wednesday. Continue
Is this the start of World War III?
By Sheera Claire Frenkel and Gil Hoffman, The Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2006
Looking to their American counterparts on Monday, Knesset members were surprised at the solidarity and support being shown among key US politicians.
Several top US political figures, including Sen. John McCain (R) Arizona, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Rep.) called the current Middle East crisis the beginning of "World War III" and said they were "gravely concerned" in an interview on CNN's Larry King Live. Continue
Christians have a biblical duty to support Israel in time of need
John C. Hagee, JTA, July 18, 2006
SAN ANTONIO, July 18 (JTA) — This week, more than 3,000 Christians representing all 50 states gathered in Washington for a truly historic event. Without the traditional rally on the Capitol steps or demonstrations that bring Washington traffic to a halt, Christians United for Israel held a banquet saluting the State of Israel and met with members of Congress to urge greater support for the Jewish state.
Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, is not a lobbying group; we are a national Christian organization that urges stronger U.S. support for Israel, especially in light of growing international tensions. Delegates came to Washington at their own expense to exercise their right to meet with members of Congress. Continue
When friends aren't really friends: Be wary of evangelical support for Israel
Barry Block, JTA, July 9, 2006
American Jews should be wary about engaging with extreme right-wing Christian supporters of Israel.
As a congregational rabbi, serving in San Antonio — home of the leader of Christians United for Israel, the Rev. John Hagee — I am most wary of these efforts. No, I am not worried that Hagee will try to convert us in the process. The entire American Jewish community may trust the reliable testimony of my Orthodox colleague in San Antonio, Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, who insists that Hagee doesn't utilize his pro-Israel activities to proselytize Jews. Hagee has earned the enmity of some colleagues in the process. Continue
Evangelicals rally for Israel, warn of Iran threat
By Margot Patterson, National Catholic Reporter, Issue of July 28, 2006
Washington. Thousands of Christians met here last week to declare their unwavering support for Israel and to warn of the threat posed by Iran.
Five months after its founding, Christians United for Israel brought 3,500 Christians to Washington July 18-20 to lobby Congress on behalf of Israel. The political action group aims to become the Christian equivalent of the influential Jewish lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The opening banquet July 18 gave the delegates their talking points. Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon set the tone when he declared that Israel and America alike are under attack by a common enemy. "Ladies and gentlemen, radical Islam is on the march," said the ambassador, who went on to name Iran as the locus of "Islamo-fascism" and a clear danger to both Israel and the United States. Ayalon said a non-nuclear Iran was brazenly funding terrorism and asked what Iran would do when it acquired nuclear weapons. "Iran must be stopped," he declared. Continue
Evangelical Christians plead for Israel
Delegates believe it is vital to campaign on behalf of Israel
By Richard Allen Greene, BBC News, Washington, July 19, 2006
A week into one of the most severe crises the Middle East has seen in years, Israel is getting an influx of support from an unusual source.
More than 3,400 evangelical Christians have arrived in Washington to lobby lawmakers as part of the first annual summit of Christians United for Israel. Continue
Christians United For Israel Rapid Response Update
Email sent April 24, 2006
Greetings to all of our CUFI Rapid Response Partners across the nation.
This past Sunday morning as I was preaching on the topic of Esther going before the king in behalf of Israel, I said something that I believe will prove to be prophetic for America.
The point was that Esther went before the king when Israel was in a time of crisis because the Hitler of the Old Testament (Haman) planned to exterminate the Jews. Continue
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Hezbollah Rockets Hit Deeper Into Israel; Eight People Killed in Haifa; Death Toll from Israeli Attacks in Lebanon Tops 100; World Leaders at G8 Summit Call for Peace
CNN, July 16, 2006
This is the transcript of the full program from which the segment in the box above is excerpted. Click here.
Christians United For Israel to Hold First-Ever Washington Summit
Historic Gathering of 3,000 Delegates to Urge Congress, Public to Strengthen Defense of Israel
News release, CUFI, July 12, 2006
WASHINGTON, July 12 /PRNewswire/ -- A new association of 3,000 Christians will converge on Washington July 18 and 19 to urge stronger U.S. support for the State of Israel in light of recent international tensions.
Delegates to the group Christians United For Israel (CUFI) will attend an international banquet July 18 titled "A Night to Honor Israel," featuring leaders from the Christian and Jewish communities. The following day they will meet with members of the House and Senate. It is believed to be the first time that Christian leaders from across the nation have come to Capitol Hill to meet directly with members of Congress to discuss support for Israel. Continue
Christian group lines up behind Israel
By Alison Hoover, The Washington Times, July 20, 2006
Leaders of the five-month-old movement Christians United For Israel and evangelicals expressed support for Israel yesterday at a press conference in the Capitol, urging Congress to follow suit.
They explained their stance to a standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people. Continue
Christian Zionists Hit The Hill
James Besser, New York Jewish Week, July 14, 2006 (second item in article)
Organizers of next week's Washington mission by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) — which aims to be the Christian version of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby — are scrambling to cope with a deluge of registrations.
Originally, planners expected 200-300 participants. But David Brog, the executive director of the group founded by evangelist and mega-church pastor John Hagee, said that he expects up to 3,000 participants next Tuesday. Continue
A gift horse or a Trojan horse?
Pro-Israel preacher goes a-lobbying
Ron Kampeas, JTA, July 3, 2006
WASHINGTON, July 3 (JTA) — A Texas preacher is coming to Capitol Hill later this month with a present for the Jews: some 2,000 heartland Americans lobbying for Israel.
The question dogging the Jewish community now is what kind of gift horse Pastor John Hagee will be riding: The kind with the mouth better left unchecked, or the Trojan kind, unwrapping relations with the Christian right that many Jews would rather avoid.
Hagee, a televangelist who leads the 19,000 member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, has made his case to Jewish groups nationwide, most recently on a tour of Jewish communities in southern California. Continue
San Antonio pastor a champion for Israel
By Abe Levey, San Antonio Express-News, July 22, 2006
Interview with San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee about his activities on behalf of Israel and his foreign policy views. Click here.
Mr. Hagee Draws Evangelicals By Arguing Jewish State Fulfills Biblical Prophecy
'End of World as We Know It'
By Andrew Higgins, The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2006
WASHINGTON -- After Israel sent warplanes into Iraq in 1981 to bomb a nuclear reactor, Texas televangelist John Hagee sent letters to 150 fellow Christian preachers to rally support for the Jewish state.
He got just one positive response. When Mr. Hagee pressed ahead with plans for a pro-Israel gathering in a San Antonio theater, he says he got a death threat on the phone and someone shot out all the windows of his station wagon parked in his driveway.
Last week, as Israel's armed forces pounded Lebanon and worries of a wider conflagration mounted, Mr. Hagee presided over what he called a "miracle of God": a gathering of 3,500 evangelical Christians packed into a Washington hotel to cheer Israel and its current military campaign. Standing on a stage bedecked with a huge Israeli flag, Mr. Hagee drew rapturous applause and shouts of "amen" as he hailed Israel for doing God's work in a "war of good versus evil." Calls for Israel to show restraint violate "God's foreign-policy statement" toward Jews, he said, citing a verse from the Old Testament that promises to "bless those who bless you" and curse "the one who curses you." Continue
Defining Christian Zionism
Donald Wagner, www.ChristianZionism.org
Briefly stated, Christian Zionism is a movement within Protestant fundamentalism that understands the modern state of the country-region Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial, and religious support. Christian Zionists work closely with the Israeli government, religious and secular Jewish Zionist organizations, and are particularly empowered during periods when the more conservative Likud Party is in control of the Knesset. Continue
As the Middle East burns, GOP pols, neocon pundits, and a powerful Christian right leader all sing the same (crazy) tune
By Sarah Posner, American Prospect, July 19, 2006
In the June issue of the Prospect, I wrote about Texas televangelist John Hagee, an Armageddon prophesier who insists that military confrontation with Iran is foretold in the Bible as a necessary precondition for the Second Coming.
Using his best-selling book, Jerusalem Countdown, his internationally broadcast television program, and the viral marketing offered by a network of mega churches whose pastors have signed on to his new lobbying effort, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Hagee has spent the past six months mobilizing popular support for a war with Iran. Based on his end-times prophecy, a supposed love of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and false claims that Iran is just months away from a viable nuclear weapon, Hagee maintains that confrontation with Iran is necessary to fulfill God's plan for the future of the world. Continue
Sarah Posner, American Prospect, June 6, 2006
Texan John Hagee may not have his "perfect red heifer" yet. But he does have a huge following, the ear of the White House -- and a theory that an invasion of Iran was foretold in the Book of Esther. Continue
Pastor John Hagee spearheads Christians United for Israel
CUFI to set up working groups in all 50 states, lobby Congress, become Christian AIPAC
Bill Berkowitz, WorkingforChange, April 13, 2006
Charismatic televangelist Pastor John Hagee thinks that the Rev. Pat Robertson's suggestion that Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was payback from God for withdrawing from Gaza was "insensitive and unnecessary." But he nevertheless appears to share Robertson's concern that Israel may be giving up too much land to the Palestinians.
To prevent the Bush Administration from pressuring the Israelis into turning over even more land, Hagee, the pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church, and the head of a multi- million dollar evangelical enterprise, recently brought together 400 Christian evangelical leaders -- representing as many as 30 million Christians -- for an invitation-only "Summit on Israel." Continue
'End Times' Religious Groups Want Apocalypse Soon
'End times' religious groups want apocalypse sooner than later, and they're relying on high tech -- and red heifers -- to hasten its arrival.
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006
For thousands of years, prophets have predicted the end of the world. Today, various religious groups, using the latest technology, are trying to hasten it.
Their endgame is to speed the promised arrival of a messiah.
For some Christians this means laying the groundwork for Armageddon. Continue
'Can I get a Hallelujah?'
Israel gets 24/7 evangelical broadcast
Ilan Chaim, JTA, May 16, 2006
JERUSALEM, May 15 (JTA) — Shortly before Passover this year, the Jewish state inaugurated something decidedly non-Jewish — an evangelical channel preaching the Gospel around the clock.
The Communications Ministry confirmed that it issued a license to Daystar, the second-largest U.S. Christian television network, whose evangelical programming kicks off with a half-hour show produced by its Jerusalem affiliate, Tarshish.
The remaining content is supplied from Daystar's home base in Texas through the company's worldwide satellite network. It will be carried in Israel via cable providers HOT, which reaches about 1 million households, and YES, which reaches 500,000. Continue
As evangelical Christians cheer, preacher gives money to back Israel
Barbara Richmond, JTA, November 25, 2002
SAN ANTONIO, Nov. 25 (JTA) — They came to honor Israel, at a time when the Jewish state feels particularly isolated in the world.
Some 5,000 cheering parishioners of the Cornerstone Church here watched Sunday night as Pastor John Hagee presented $1.5 million for Israel-related causes to the president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, Stephen Hoffman. Continue