A reader commented on my story this week about AIPAC – the pro-Israel lobby giant that, according to everything I hear, has not been weakened by the attacks by Walt-Mearsheimer acolytes or the rapid growth of J Street. (AIPAC’s annual policy conference begins on Sunday.)
“The most powerful Israel Lobby in Washington now is the Christian Zionist Lobby,” the commenter writes. “Many Congressional districts are as much as 30 percent Christian Zionists, sometimes more.”
I haven’t seen much evidence that Christian Zionism – in the sense of evangelical Christians who make support for Israel a political priority, as opposed to those who simply think Israel is a cool idea – is a hugely widespread phenomenon.
Yes, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has enjoyed strong growth since its creation in 2006 by the controversial pastor John Hagee. But it still represents a relatively small slice of the big and diffuse evangelical movement, although I agree that it presence is growing in the Christian world.
I’d also dispute the idea that this is a lobby on a par with AIPAC; it’s more like a big cheering section for the Jewish state.
AIPAC has a huge team of skilled lobbyists and political operatives who are able to multiply its lobbying power; I don’t see any of that in CUFI. Congressional offices check with AIPAC before making any moves or statements on Middle East matters; I haven’t heard of any that do that with Hagee’s group.
Lobbying is much more than holding rallies and an annual conference. AIPAC does it, I don’t see any evidence the Christian Zionists do it to any great extent. Yes, their numbers and enthusiasm are important, but they have yet to become a coherent, focused political force. There’s a big difference between lobbying and holding pep rallies.
I also don’t see any evidence of a growing network of Christian Zionist campaign givers who make their donation decisions based on the Israel issue. AIPAC wouldn’t be what it is today without such a network backing up its lobbying; J Street understands that fact, which is why it got into the campaign finance business from the start.