Joe Lieberman was keynote speaker at this Hagee Conference.
Christians United for Israel Attracts Record Numbers at Conference
August 11th, 2008
The electricity in the air was palpable in the nation’s capitol as these words from the prophet Isaiah served as the battle cry for a record number of over 7,000 Christian supporters of Israel who gathered on July 20-23 to attend the third annual Washington Summit of the Christians United For Israel organization at the Washington, DC Convention Center. Founded in February of 2006 by Pastor John Hagee, Senior Pastor of The Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas and President and CEO of John Hagee Ministries, Christians United For Israel represents the premiere Christian evangelical national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel. Having called upon Christian leaders from across America to join him in launching this new initiative, Pastor Hagee enlisted the help of over 400 Christian ministers, each representing a denomination, mega-church, media ministry, publishing company, or Christian university. Each one answered the call and Christians United for Israel was born. Today, CUFI boasts a membership of over 50 million Christian Zionists in America.
Unlike other Christian evangelical organizations whose raison d’etre is to persuade Jews to embrace the teachings of Jesus and to convert, CUFI lauds the Jewish faith and tradition and exhorts Jews to return to G-d and the timeless teachings of the Torah. As such, Pastor Hagee has created alliances with many Orthodox rabbis and organizations, including Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman of Israel’s Migdal Ohr. Quoting scripture to support his thesis that Christians are obligated to love Jews and lend their succor to Israel, Pastor Hagee said, “In the Bible, G-d says, “I will bless those that bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3) and we Christians must support Israel’s right to the land because G-d commanded us to. In Genesis, (13:14-17), the Bible says: “The L-rd said unto Abram… ‘Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art.. for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever…”
The main objective of the attendees, who hailed from every state in the nation as well as Canada, Europe, Israel, and Africa was to lobby their elected officials for their complete commitment to support the State of Israel in these most “trying times”. Continual references to the growing threat of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel and the proliferation of such well funded terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah captured center stage at the summit. In a forceful declaration, Pastor Hagee intoned, “There is a new Hitler in the Middle East; he is the President of Iran. He intends to build nuclear weapons and his brazen declarations to kill the Jews have been carried on the front pages of the world’s press. In 1935, the Christians of the world were silent. In the 21st century, Christians are united in their support of Israel. We will not be silent. In our pulpits… on our global media networks… in our schools and universities and in the halls of Congress, we will not keep silent. The voice of evil will not go uncontested in our generation. Not on our watch !!”
The summit included a veritable cornucopia of celebrated speakers, as participants attended two days of seminars that featured Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Director of Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, who spoke most eloquently on the subject of divestments, sanctions and boycotts of those US firms conducting fiduciary business with Iran, Syria and the terrorist organizations that they fund. Other speakers included
Daniel Pipes, Director of Middle East Forum, a Washington based think tank who addressed the overflowing audience on the burgeoning growth of radical Islam. Joining him on the podium was Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Dr. Walid Phares, Director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ Future of Terrorism Project. Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy presented facts on the nuclear buildup of the Iranian regime along with Clifford May, President of The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. David Brog, Executive Director of CUFI led a talking points seminar, advising attendees on the issues they should raise to their elected officials when visiting them on Capitol Hill.
Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY) joined Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) in the Middle East briefing seminar. Referring to the avalanche of liberal pressure being applied to Congressman Engel to cancel his appearance at the CUFI summit Congressman Pence said, “My colleague from New York, Congressman Engel and I agree on very little, except when it comes to our complete support for nation of Israel. My presence here today is certainly no surprise. I am a Christian evangelical and it was just a matter of scheduling but for Congressman Engel being here today was an act of moral courage.”
Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated radio host was the keynote speaker at the Chairman’s Club Donor Banquet which concluded the first day’s events on Monday, July 21. His speech was followed by a private concert given by famed country singer, Randy Travis.
The cornerstone of the three day conference was the elaborately produced “Night to Honor Israel” banquet which was broadcast live to both a national and international audience by the religious cable television network Day Star. Over 8000 people attending the dinner danced with joy and waved both Israeli and American flags while being entertained by the CUFI choir who sang uplifting Jewish and American folk songs. The evening’s invocation was delivered by Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of Congregation Rodeph Shalom of San Antonio, Texas. He blessed Pastor Hagee for his “loyalty, leadership and devotion” to the Jewish people and the land of Israel and heaped accolades upon him for the millions of dollars he has raised for Torah institutions in Israel. “I have known and loved Pastor John Hagee for over 25 years. There can be no overstating the depth and sincerity of his devotion to Israel” said Rabbi Scheinberg.
A professionally produced short documentary on the history of modern Israel was shown which included footage on the birth of the political Zionist movement under Theodore Herzl, the contributions of the father of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, the Czarist pogroms, the Holocaust and the emergence of the State of Israel in 1948.
Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations expressed his wholehearted appreciation to CUFI for their unabashed declarations of support for the “Jewish claim” to the land of Israel. He lamented the fact that the United Nations had devolved into a rogues gallery of nations seething with hatred towards Israel and said that the “glass building on 42nd Street and First Avenue in Manhattan had become a terrible place to work”.
Pastor John Hagee then ascended the podium, assuming his posture as pastor, delivered a passionate speech that was met with thunderous applause and several standing ovations. Referring to the recent controversy that swirled around him regarding Republican presidential hopeful, Sen John McCain’s (R-AZ) repudiation of his endorsement, Pastor Hagee said, “The days of remaining silent in the face of Jew haters is over. We say ‘Never Again’ to the likes of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ‘Never Again’ to Hamas terrorists, ‘Never Again to the United Nations, ‘Never Again’ to universities that espouse hatred for Israel and ‘Never Again’ to endorsements of presidential candidates.”
He spoke of his own tribulations; saying that “the casualty of war is always truth”. Having been labeled by the media as an anti-Semite (because of the premeditated twisting of his remarks concerning G-d bringing about the Holocaust so that the Jews would be forced to go to the land of Israel) and a Catholic basher, he countered these accusations by introducing three prominent members of the Catholic league in the audience and pledged his continued cooperation to work with any groups who support the historic and religious right of the Jewish people to their homeland. He expressed no apologies for the Biblical origins of CUFI and told the media in no uncertain terms that “CUFI is alive and well, stronger than ever and we are not leaving.”
Alluding to the fact that the Jewish people were the first witnesses to G-d at Mount Sinai, Pastor Hagee concluded by saying, “Israel will be the praise of all the earth, the Jewish people have given us the Bible, the prophets and we cannot explain our existence as Christians without the Jews, but the Jews can explain their existence without us Christians. There would be no Christianity today without the Jews.”
The evening built to a crescendo as keynote speaker, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) was introduced by Gary Bauer, President of American Values. In addition to Congressman Elliot Engel of New York, Sen. Lieberman was also subjected to vitriolic media attacks for addressing the CUFI summit. In a scathing condemnation in The Huffington Post on May 27, 2008, columnist Max Blumenthal wrote, “Why won’t Lieberman, who is married to the daughter of Holocaust survivors, end his relationship with Hagee? Why, in apparent defiance of the McCain campaign, does he remain scheduled to headline Hagee’s upcoming summit? If Lieberman plans to continue touting his moral fiber and independence as his greatest assets, he must renounce the hate-mongering Hagee.” Yet Sen. Joseph Lieberman remained committed to his support of Pastor Hagee and CUFI. On May 13, Fox News’ Megan Kelly asked Senator Lieberman to respond to the gathering criticism of Hagee’s remarks. But instead of distancing himself from Hagee’s views as McCain had, Lieberman launched into a spirited defense of the televangelist, describing him as someone who “represents a lot of people in this country, particularly Christians who care about the state of Israel.”
Despite a petition that garnered 42,000 signatures circulated by ‘J Street’, a left wing pro-Palestinian lobbying movement exhorting Senator Lieberman to cancel his appearance at the ‘Night to Honor Israel’, the senator proudly took the rostrum and told the audience, “I am your brother Joseph”, a clear reference to the Yosef HaTzaddik who revealed himself to his brothers in the Bible. Said Senator Lieberman, “As you may know – there has been an organized and aggressive campaign to convince me to cancel my speech this evening, following the political controversy that broke out over Pastor Hagee and some of the comments he made. But the bond I feel with Pastor John Hagee and each of you – including a significant delegation from Connecticut – is much stronger than that and so I am proud to stand with you here tonight.”
Quoting the Bible on numerous occasions throughout his speech, Senator Lieberman said, “Throughout too much of the world, it seems that Israel is condemned for its every move, while excuses are invented for every indecency of its enemies. On its borders are terrorist enemies and nearby is Iran, whose fanatical president threatens Israel’s very existence. But we do not fear because we know that it says in the Bible: “You name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with G-d and with men and you have prevailed.”
Continuing on the issue of the Iranian nuclear capabilities, Senator Lieberman told the audience who sat in rapt attention, “The threat from Iran lies not just in their arming, training and funding terrorists throughout the Middle East and the world, but even more from the nuclear weapons development program they are clearly pursuing. History warns us what can happen when we don’t take the threats of such tyrants and terrorists seriously. We must not repeat this mistake.”
He urged the Christian lobbyists to persuade their elected officials to support the ‘Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2008’ which was recently approved by the Senate Banking Committee. He said, “Foreign banks and companies don’t want to lose the ability to operate in the US and trade with us, and so the sanctions in this bill will help economically isolate the regime in Teheran.”
Sen Lieberman lauded the commitment of the assemblage by saying, “People who move the world do not believe that it is inevitable they will sit atop the world. They lead not because they believe in their greatness, but because they believe in a cause that is greater than themselves. They see a mission to accomplish, a destiny to shape.. That is precisely what all of you here do. You see Israel and America under threat – and so you stand up for both. You stand for Israel not because it is easy or because it is popular – but because it is right. You stand up for Israel because you recognize that it is a cause that is just and honorable, because it is a cause greater than yourselves.”
Also attending the “Night To Honor Israel” was a formidable contingent of Orthodox Jews from both the USA and Israel. The CUFI staff made arrangements with a local Washington, DC glatt kosher caterer, thus providing kosher meals of the highest standard for their Jewish supporters. Helen Freedman, member of the executive board of American For a Safe Israel said, “I am here tonight to show my support for an organization that courageously extols the ‘Jewish right’ to the land of Israel”. Also present at the banquet were Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center, journalist and Bet El, Israel resident, Rabbi Yedidya Atlas, Mike Cohen, a Zionist educator from Israel, Roy S. Neuberger, author of the recently released novel by Feldheim Publishers entitled, “2020 Vision” and his wife Leah and Ariel Kotler of Teaneck, New Jersey representing One Family Fund, an organization that provides direct financial, legal, and emotional assistance to victims of terrorism in Israel.
Said one prominent Orthodox leader who chose not to reveal his name. “Coming here tonight and participating in this gathering is a Kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of G-d’s name). Pastor Hagee is truly an ‘Ish Elokim’, a man of G-d, who has no nefarious agenda when it comes to Jews and Israel. We are most grateful for his sincere devotion to Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel) and we obligated by Hashem (G-d) to show our Hakores HaTov (appreciation) to our friends.”
Hagee, backed by Lieberman,
strikes defiant note at D.C. parley
By Ron Kampeas Published: 07/23/2008
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The choir danced a hora, the fiddler played a hoedown, Joe Lieberman cited scripture and Pastor John Hagee said his enemies would never draw him away from Israel.
Thousands of followers of Christians United for Israel, the movement Hagee founded, traveled this week across the United States to pack the cavernous Washington Convention Center in a defiant show of strength.
In the signature “Night to Honor Israel” on Tuesday, Hagee depicted himself as emerging from a lion’s den of media dissimulation and political iniquity.
“There have been a great many misrepresentations and a great deal of confusion sown,” Hagee said, his baritone booming over a constant swell of cheers and blessings.
Hagee was referring to the intense and at times outright hostile scrutiny he suffered this year after he endorsed the presidential candidacy of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Within weeks Hagee withdrew his endorsement, unwilling to suffer a depiction of himself — some of it distorted — as a bigot who reviled Catholics, gays and Muslims and who was insensitive to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.
The experience clearly scarred Hagee. His speeches are usually optimistic prophecies of an Israel thriving against the odds, but on Tuesday night his sermon was peppered with dark, wistful humor.
His routine litany of “Never agains” punctuating pledges to protect the Jews from terrorists, Iran and anti-Semites was rounded out with a new promise Tuesday night: “What will I say the next time I’m asked to endorse a presidential candidate? Never again.”
Hagee described a “vicious media firestorm” — not surprisingly, the media was barred from much of the four-day conference. During the parts open to the press Tuesday, CUFI volunteers rushed to abort any attempts to interview conference attendees.
“You are not covering our dark motives, you are expressing your dark motives,” Hagee told reporters.
Hagee’s strident support for Israel and the settlement policies of Israeli hawks has been controversial since he launched his first “Night to Honor Israel” in San Antonio, the hometown of his Cornerstone megachurch, in the early 1980s.
Since then, he claims to have raised $30 million — a portion of it for building in West Bank settlements — and in 2006 went nationwide by founding CUFI with an array of other popular evangelical preachers.
Hagee said the attacks he suffered subsequent to his McCain endorsement were nothing less than a campaign to separate Americans from their beliefs.
“We need to be careful that we don’t allow belief in the Bible to be unacceptable,” he said.
It was clear that the most hurtful episode for Hagee was the emergence of out-of-context excerpts of sermons in the mid-1990s in which he attempted to offer a theological explanation for how God would allow the mass murder of the Jews.
Adolf Hitler, he said at the time, was a demonic agent of God driving the Jews back to their historic homeland.
Such a “theology of suffering” is not inconsistent with an evangelical outlook that seeks a divine explanation for even the most incomprehensible historical events. In the heat of the presidential campaign, however, a few liberal bloggers and media commentators twisted this relatively commonplace exegesis into Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.
In an issue of The Torch, the movement’s magazine distributed at the conference, Gary Bauer, a leading political evangelical, said the attacks were “obscenely distorting.”
David Brog, CUFI’s Jewish executive director, likened Hagee’s suffering during the episode to a “new inquisition.”
“Breathe in deeply and you can still smell the embers smoldering around Pastor Hagee’s public persona,” Brog wrote.
Bruce Wilson, a progressive blogger, posted the video of the Holocaust sermons. That led Hagee’s lawyers to force YouTube to pull down any video depicting his preaching, citing copyright infringement.
Some of the defiance on Tuesday night masked a conciliatory tone, however.
Hagee again expressed his skepticism of land-for-peace formulas, but added, “We do not decide — the Israelis decide and they alone have the right to make that decision.”
The reference apparently was to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the Reform Jewish leader who earlier this year urged Jewish groups to cut off Hagee in part because of his strident advocacy of settlement building and concerns that he would seek to undermine Israeli peace moves.
Hagee also was careful when he referred to Islamist terrorists, describing them as hewing to a “radical interpretation of Islam” — a moderation of his earlier, more sweeping condemnation of the religion.
He also had as guests at the event Roman Catholic lay leaders who had criticized Hagee for his denunciations of anti-Semitism in which he used language once associated with radical Vatican-hating Protestants.
Asking Catholic League leader Bill Donohue to rise to applause, Hagee said they had settled their differences.
The thrust of the evening’s message was that if anything, the events have driven Hagee and his Jewish friends closer together. The 3,000 CUFI followers waved Israeli and American flags throughout the event. Hagee’s choir and orchestra slid from a traditional hora-driven rendition of “Hava Nagila” into a country western version complete with soaring fiddle.
His longtime friend from San Antonio, Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, blessed the evening’s events.
Dan Gillerman, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told Hagee’s followers that their love for Israel sustained him during his six years in the post.
“I pray that God will continue to bless you with success,” Gillerman said.
The biggest “get,” however, was U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the first Jew to land a spot on a major national presidential ticket when he ran for vice president with Al Gore in 2000 as a Democrat.
J Street, a new left-wing pro-Israel lobby, on Monday had delivered a petition with 42,000 signatures to Lieberman’s office urging “Don’t Go Joe.” It cited Hagee’s inflammatory statements about Muslims and gays, as well as his backing for settlements.
Lieberman, who appeared to a hero’s welcome, cited the petition only to say that he ignored its pleadings. He said he recognized Hagee as flawed, but that was mitigated by the greater good he helped bring about.
Citing scripture, Lieberman said the same could be said of Moses and Miriam, whose flaws of anger and pettiness are noted in the Bible.
“I can only imagine what the bloggers would have to say about Moses and Miriam,” Lieberman said. “Judge each other with the humility that comes from the certainty that each and every one of us is imperfect.”
The presence of Lieberman, a leading surrogate for McCain, also underscored a political tinge to the proceedings, despite Hagee’s assurances that he was out of politics for good.
Hagee’s praise for President Bush was drowned out by cheers and applause. Bauer, introducing Lieberman, likened him to President Ronald Reagan and praised him for standing up to the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party and running as an independent in 2006 after he was ousted in a primary.
Lieberman described an amendment he sponsored last year declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group as a “no-brainer” that drew the votes of 76 senators. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, opposed the amendment.
Lieberman, whose approval rate in Connecticut and among Jews is plummeting, clearly enjoyed the moment. He loved CUFI, he said, because “I can go back to scripture more than with many other groups — frankly, including many Jewish groups.”