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Evangelicals Rally Their Flocks Behind Israel

POLITICS-US:
Evangelicals Rally Their Flocks Behind Israel

http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=32779

Bill Berkowitz*

OAKLAND, California, Apr 5 (IPS) - To prevent the George W. 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".

The result was the launch of a new pro-Israel lobbying group called
Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

By 2002, a number of veteran Christian conservative evangelical leaders and
Republican Party power brokers had joined forces with conservative Jewish
leaders to launch several pro-Israel organisations. But the history of
Jewish-evangelical involvement goes back several decades.

According to Rabbi James Rudin, writing in his recently published book, "The
Baptising of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of U.S.,"
"the first [modern] evangelical-Jewish meeting" took place in New York in
1975.

A bevy of issues including "the meaning of Messiah in both traditions, Jesus
the Jew, biblical theology and the meaning of modern Israel and Jerusalem
for Christian conservatives and Jews" were discussed.

Rudin points out that "the evangelical commitment to Israel creates some...
ambivalence" in the Jewish community, since that "commitment" is built on
the biblical belief that "without an Israel, an ingathering of Jewish
exiles, [the] major event in Christian eschatology [the Second coming of
Jesus to Jerusalem] cannot take place."

"That is why some evangelicals are dismayed at any Israeli withdrawal or
disengagement from any area of the biblical 'Holy Land.' That is also why
the strong Christian conservative support of Israel is not linked to Middle
East realpolitik or America's growing thirst for Arab oil," Rudin says.

Although not as well known on the national political scene as some of his
evangelical brethren, Hagee has built an impressive evangelical empire and
developed strong political ties to the Republican Party.

Since his 1978 "conversion" to Zionism, he has emphasised establishing and
maintaining good relations with Israeli leaders and conservative sectors of
the U.S. Jewish community. Over the years he has met with Israeli heads of
state and carved out a special relationship with former Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud Party performed dismally in the
recent elections in Israel.

"Think of CUFI as a Christian version of American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC)," the powerful pro-Israel lobby, Hagee told The Jerusalem
Post in an interview a few days before his February summit. "We need to be
able to respond instantly to Washington with our concerns about Israel. We
must join forces to speak as one group and move as one body to [respond to]
the crisis Israel will be facing in the near future."

While Hagee wouldn't spell out which particular crisis he was concerned
with, he did tell the Israeli newspaper that "'the Bible issue', namely what
he considers to be the mistaken policy of trading parts of the biblical Land
of Israel for peace", was at the top of CUFI's list.

"Every state in the Union, every congressional district" will be accounted
for, Hagee added.

A post-meeting report at the John Hagee Ministries website said that
Christians United for Israel had put together a national board consisting of
Hagee as national chairman, fundamentalist minister Jerry Falwell, Gary
Bauer, president of American Values, and Pastor George Morrison of Arvada,
Colorado.

Christians United for Israel intends to establish a 50-state rapid-response
network that aims to reach every senator and congressman in the U.S. The
organisation is also concerned with "protecting marriage, family and faith",
Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported.

Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of San Antonio's Congregation Rodfei Sholom attended
the meeting and called it a historic gathering. Scheinberg told the San
Antonio Express-News that "It's the first nationwide effort I know of to
unify evangelical leaders in support of Israel. These leaders who
participated speak for millions of people. This organisation has phenomenal
potential in supporting, defending and advocating for Israel."

Pastor Hagee and Rabbi Scheinberg go way back. In a story entitled "Our
Jewish Roots" published in JHMagazine, Hagee tells of a June 1978 visit to
Israel where he "went ... as a tourist and came home a Zionist." When he
returned home he decided to organise "A Night to Honour Israel." According
to Hagee's account, Rabbi Scheinberg "pressed the Jewish Community into
taking a chance and extending its hand in mutual friendship."

The rabbi, pictured with Hagee in several photographs in JHMagazine,
delivered the benediction at the first "A Night to Honour Israel" event in
1981, and has been a regular participant ever since.

Members of CUFI intend to meet with "legislators in Washington for two days
in July to tell them about the organisation and its platform, and express
their support for Israel," according to Haaretz. In addition, the "A Night
to Honor Israel" event will be expanded and held in several cities
simultaneously.

CUFI's website maintains that the group was founded "to provide a national
organisation through which every pro-Israel organisation and ministry in
America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters
related to Biblical issues".

"We see Christians in the United States as true friends and important
supporters on the basis of shared values, and we welcome their efforts to
strengthen the ties between Israel and the U.S.," said Israeli Ambassador to
the United States Danny Ayalon.

In addition to running San Antonio's well-attended Cornerstone Church, Hagee
heads up the multimillion-dollar evangelism enterprise called Global
Evangelism Television. Over four decades, members of his ministry have
donated millions to carry out his mission.

Global Evangelism Television has become a massive money-making family
enterprise which brings in millions of dollars year after year by selling
inspirational books, tapes and the promise of prosperity.

Hagee is the author of a number of books including "Attack on America -- New
York, Jerusalem, and the role of Terrorism in the Last Days", and "The
Beginning of the End -- The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming
Antichrist". His latest non-fiction book is called "Jerusalem Countdown -- A
Warning to the World", which landed on best-seller lists.

The new book posits that "biblical prophecy is playing itself out daily in
the Middle East," Agape Press, a Christian-based news service, reported.
"Hagee says Iran's new president, coupled with... [the] victory by
terrorist-backed Hamas in the Palestinian elections, paves the way for an
impending war in the region."

In addition to spearheading the launch of Christians United for Israel, and
appearing on a panel at the recent National Religious Broadcasters
convention, Hagee has aligned himself with a number of Christian right
evangelicals that condemned the Evangelical Climate Initiative, signed by 86
evangelical leaders acknowledging the seriousness of global warming and
pledging to press for legislation to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His
WorkingForChange column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies,
players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right. (FIN/2006)
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