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Inside CUFI's 2010 Washington "Summit"

An eyewitness report on Christians United For Israel's annual conference

Special to JewsOnFirst.org, November 4, 2010

The photos accompanying this article were taken by Haim Beliak and Jane Hunter of JewsOnFirst outside CUFI's 2009 and 2010 conventions

Christians United for Israel's (CUFI) fifth annual Washington Summit, held this past July 20-22, 2010, highlighted once again the persistence and institutionalization of CUFI as the American Christian Zionist organization. As with its previous Summits, it was repeatedly emphasized that the support and love that CUFI and its members have for Israel and the Jewish people – to be sure a very particular kind of support – was based on the Biblical mandate of Christians to do just that. Of course, this is not to be dismissed as a false reason for its support. Indeed the proliferation and popularity of the "prosperity gospel" in contemporary conservative Protestantism has ensured that the repeated refrain of Genesis 12:3 (I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you) resonates among the (Christian) leaders of CUFI and its members. This is because it funnels the belief in personal "blessings" (which are almost always considered in financial terms) and national blessings (the furtherance of a conservative social agenda and American global dominance) into the ultimate investment: Israel.

This point was emphasized within the first hour of the opening night of the conference by Diana Hagee (wife of Rev. John Hagee) who pointed out that: "we need to spend more time praying for Israel and less time praying for our personal needs. Life is going to get a whole lot better for us, and trust me, all those other things (one's personal desires) are going to be taken care of [if we bless Israel correctly]." While not false reasons for support (irrespective of how misguided they might be), it was evident that the repeated invocation also served a didactic function for those in attendance – many of whom, as in previous years, cited the importance of Israel in the end-times as reasons for their support – to let them know how they should be responding to questions regarding their support for Israel.

Despite this, the subtle invocations of symbolic eschatological language and logic were evident, not only in the words of the speakers, but also in the jubilant responses from the audience when such symbolism was used. And really, in the context of CUFI, symbolism is all that is needed to convey the eschatological underpinnings of its goals and their mission, despite the sustained refrain to the contrary. This is because the particular end-times message has been around long enough and is more comprehensively conveyed in other mediums that allusion is sufficient to engender the desired understanding from the audience, while not alienating those who don't understand or share the same beliefs.

The use of symbolic language, in a particularly religious context was most evident in the opening session of prayer, in which attendees were instructed on how to effectively pray for Israel, and taught the purpose of their mission. Significantly, the opening prayer session was used as a moment to consecrate the conference and the role of attendees as God's divine agents at a particular point in history (the history of the future), and that they would be blessed accordingly for serving God in this way. In Diana Hagee's words: "God use me, 'til I draw my last breath or better yet till the trumpet sounds!" (That is, until the rapture occurs).

Diana Hagee further elaborated CUFI's prophetic mission when she likened her husband to a modern day prophet:

Watchmen can see into the distance, and there have been three people in history with this prophetic power. Theodore Herzl – although being an unlikely candidate for God's will (as a secular Jew) fulfilled it (and it was made clear that this was concomitant with the help of early Christian Zionists) by pushing for the creation of modern Israel. The second person was Ze'ev Jabotinsky for calling Jews out of Europe prior to the Holocaust. The third is John Hagee. Four years ago, John Hagee called together over 400 leaders to start CUFI and at the time things were good; we had a Christian who supported Israel in the White House and there was little trouble. But he said that in its fifth year we "will know why we are here." And now we are in our fifth year and we know why we are here.

The implication of this – which was not lost on the audience – was that now, the Obama Administration is serving the cause of evil. It is applying further pressure on the Israeli administration to negotiate peace with its Palestinian neighbors, while also attempting to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world – two things which are themselves considered to be harbingers of the end-times because of the "false peace" brought about by the antichrist, and also the establishment of a one-world government, to which international cooperation and diplomacy are frequently portrayed as precursors.

The opening night of the conference coincided with the start of Tisha B'av, the Jewish commemoration and mourning of the destruction of the first and second Temples. It is difficult to discern whether or not Tisha B'av was taken into account prior to the organization of the conference. When asking whether attendees knew what it was, Diana Hagee claimed a willful ignorance, relating that when Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg used the words "Tisha B'av", she didn't know what it was and thought he could have just as easily been "ordering a sandwich." Although the comment was meant to be light-hearted it seemed to betray a distinct lack of respect for Jewish tradition from an organization that emphatically portrays itself as an embodiment of modern philo-Semitism (admiration for Jews). Nevertheless, the customary reading of the Book of Lamentations proceeded to the delight of the Christian attendees. This commemoration of Tisha B'av at the conference seemed to perform another function: It further consecrated the event, as an historical one of the coming together of Christians and Jews, but more importantly it defined the Jewish speakers at the conference as "real Jews," conferring to them a much greater sense of legitimacy and authority because of their religious devotion. Such adulation is in keeping with our report and reflections on the 2008 Summit (which can be found here.)

The religious and motivational significance of this opening night should not be underestimated. It set the tone for the rest of the conference, which was slowly emptied of overt theological reference to focus on politics and the more practical reasons that Christians need to be supporting Israel, instilling the belief that they have been brought up by God for a mission "at such a time as this." It conveyed to the Christian attendees that they were "walking in the mantle of Esther" – a reference to Queen Esther who saved all the Jews from annihilation, as celebrated during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Importantly for today, the parallel is rendered even more effective due to the fact that the Book of Esther is set in ancient Persia – modern Iran – the current thorn in the side of neoconservatives and also a country with a prominent role in the eschatology of Christian Zionists. Therefore the neoconservative message they received at the various tutorials during the proceeding days became imbued with a sacred meaning despite the very worldly hegemonic goals of those espousing them.

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