Thursday, July 23rd, 2009
I confess: because of other assignments, I didn’t get down to the Christians United for Israel Washington summit this week, the first one I’ve missed. But based on past years events and interviews with several folks who attended this week’s, I’ve reached one new conclusion about the group.
From the beginning, CUFI has embraced the Israeli settlers movement in a way no major Jewish group has.
CUFI conventions have a highly visible and still growing settlers presence; at an AIPAC policy conference, you’d be hard pressed to find any identifiable representative of a settler organization or community, certainly none on the official program.
This week CUFI’s John Hagee, in a public message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he backs “Israel’s sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit and not yield to the pressure of the United States government.”
That’s a formulation you won’t hear any major American Jewish pro-Israel group use. They agree on the “sovereign” part, they’ll rally their troops to fight “pressure” on the Jewish state and they might even talk positively but carefully about “natural growth,” but they’ll do everything possible to avoid using the term “settlements” or give the appearance that they support leaving them on the West Bank.
There are many Christians at any CUFI event who believe that God gave all the land to the Jews – meaning Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Israel proper. Only a very small proportion of American Jews share that belief, and it’s not the policy of any major Jewish group.
One wonders: if CUFI is, indeed, the largest pro-Israel group in the nation in terms of membership, and if it is winning growing acceptance among the Jewish pro-Israel leadership, how might that impact a broader pro-Israel movement that has generally regarded the issue of settlements and settlers as too radioactive to touch? How might that influence a movement that has regarded supporting settlements as a losing issue, both with politicians and the public?
JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out something else in his blog yesterday: CUFI severely restricted reporters’ access to this year’s meeting, escorting them to the sessions open to the press and preventing direct, unsupervised contact with conventioneers themselves.
AIPAC doesn’t always like the coverage it gets, but to its great credit it doesn’t try to keep reporters from doing their jobs at its annual policy conference.
In fact, CUFI’s leash on reporters has been getting tighter ever since the group was embarrassed by journalist Max Blumenthal’s viral “Rapture Ready” video, which featured delegates who were much more explicit about their apocalyptic beliefs and Israel than Pastor Hagee is.
All that said, I’d have to agree with some CUFI officials that the group has beaten down much of the initial unease its arrival on the scene in 2006 generated among pro-Israel leaders. While it lost potential White House access and influence when the Democrats took over in January, it gained an important friend in Israel; Netanyahu has in the past regarded pro-Israel evangelicals as a key element in his U.S. support network.