Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thousands gather at annual CUFI conference - Whatever happens, Israel can always count on U.S. evangelicals

(Haaretz).Thousands of Christians from across the United States descended on Capitol Hill on Thursday in order to lobby Washington lawmakers on behalf of Israel.

Organizers of the event, called Christians United for Israel, showed their strength by lobbying over 85 percent U.S. Congress offices.

Attendees of this year's gathering are visibly different from those in the past: about one in five of the 5,000 participants was from a Hispanic Church.

“Last year we had about 300 Hispanics, but this year we started specific outreach to the Hispanic churches where Spanish is a language of worship”, says David Brog, the executive director of CUFI. “We have started an outreach to African-Americans. It was always our goal to broaden our base ethnically, geographically and theologically”.

Yet despite the attempt to reach out to traditionally left-leaning minority groups, Democrats are few and far between at the conference.

“We are determined to be bipartisan, we always invite Democrats but typically we get better answers from the Republicans”, says Brog.

Democrats' reluctance might have something to do with CUFI's relations with activists on the right wing of Israeli politics.

In May, CUFI leader Pastor John Hagee wrote in an op-ed in The Forward newspaper that “we will never, never oppose Israeli efforts to advance peace".

Yet Hagee has courted controversy with by offering financial backing to some settler organizations.

“Pastor Hagee gives away a lot of money each year," says Brog. "Last year he gave away approximately 10 million dollars and over 95 percent of it went to charities within the green line. About 5 percent went to humanitarian projects over the green line. Almost all of it went to the areas that will be within the Israeli state following the agreement. With limited exceptions he hasn’t been a really big supporter of settlements. It has not been a focus of his giving and it certainly hasn’t been the focus of his advocacy."

“CUFI stands for supporting an Israeli democratically elected government,” he said. “I noted from the audience that a large majority at the Capitol Hill supports a two-state solution. There is no need to get into an argument about it, that’s not our point."

The scuffle was just another more sign - if any were neede that one Christian response Israel can always count on is backing from U.S. Evangelicals.

“Harry Truman, who recognized Israel 11 minutes after its creation, was a member of the evangelical group American Christians for Israel, " Israel's ambassador, Michael Oren, told delegates.

Sixty-two years on, it seems Israeli governments on both sides of the poltical divide have done nothing to diminish that support.