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2006-08-15

Christians United for Israel: New Christian Zionism Lobby Hopes to Rival AIPAC

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We take a look at a new recently established group called Christians United for Israel–an evangelical organization that believes supporting expansionist policies of the Israeli government is: "a biblical imperative." We speak with investigative journalist Max Blumenthal who reports they lobbied the Bush administration to adopt a confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand in its attack on Lebanon. [includes rush transcript]

In March of this year, a study on the role of the Israel lobby in US foreign policy caused an uproar in the academic community and in the media. The paper’s authors, Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, argued the pro-Israel lobby has unduly influenced the United States to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of Israel. The study emphasized the activities of the pro-Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

Well, there’s another side of the pro-Israel lobby that’s drawing increasing attention — and some say its far more influential. A new group was recently established called Christians United for Israel–CUFI. They’re an evangelical organization that believes supporting expansionist policies of the Israeli government is: "a biblical imperative." In a new article for The Nation, journalist Max Blumenthal reports group members have held several meetings with White House officials to talk about US policy in the Middle East. They’ve apparently lobbied the administration to adopt a confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand in its attack on Lebanon.

We’re going to speak with Max Blumenthal in a moment but first, we hear from Christians United for Israel. Their inaugural event was held last month in Washington, DC. More than 3,000 people were in attendance to hear speeches from Israeli and American dignitaries. Among the speakers was Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback.

The group’s founder, Texas television evangelist John Hagee, also spoke.

We speak with Max Blumenthal. He writes about Christians United for Israel in a new piece for the Nation titled "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism."

  • Max Blumenthal, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. His work has appeared in The Nation, Salon, The American Prospect and the Washington Monthly. His blog is MaxBlumenthal.Blogspot.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are going now to speak with Max Blumenthal in a moment. But first, we turn to Christians United for Israel. Their inaugural event was held last month in Washington, D.C. More than 3,000 people were in attendance to hear speeches from Israeli and American dignitaries. Among the speakers was Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Thank you in your energy. Thank you in your prayers. Thank you for standing with Israel in this difficult time. I close with noting that the recently elected Prime Minister of Israel addressed a joint session of Congress about a month or so ago. And he spoke there, and I sat as I listened to him give an eloquent speech, uniting speech, thinking to myself, the United States doesn’t have a closer partner in the world than Israel today. And it is true. And it’s important for us, when our friend is in difficulty, Israel, that we stand by them in this difficult time. Thank you for being here. God bless you all. God bless the United States of America. And God bless the Israeli people.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senator Sam Brownback speaking last month at the inaugural banquet for Christians United for Israel. The group’s founder, Texas television evangelist, John Hagee, also spoke.

JOHN HAGEE: We gather in Washington, D.C., tonight for one of the most dramatic moments in the history of American Christiandom. We gather here from every state in the nation. We gather here with more than 3,400 spiritual leaders. We gather for one purpose: to express our solidarity with the state of Israel and the Jewish people, because this historic event is being telecast across the nation and around the world; because this telecast is being seen in Iran, where a new Hitler, the President of Iran, threatens to annihilate Israel with a nuclear holocaust, saying Israel should be wiped off the map and saying, like it or not, the Zionist regime is headed toward total annihilation, to be ended with a sudden storm; because the enemies of Israel are doubtless watching this telecast and question our resolve as Christians to stand with Israel until Islamofascism is totally defeated; because this will be seen in Israel by a war-weary people who at this very hour are once again fighting Hamas terrorists whose covenant calls for the death of Jewish people and total destruction of Israel; because God in heaven is watching and has commanded us, keep not silent concerning Israel. Well, those of you in this audience who stand in solidarity with Israel, until victory comes, stand and send a message to the U.S. Congress, to the people of Israel, to the enemies of Israel: We are with you. We stand with you. Israel, you are not alone.

AMY GOODMAN: John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel. We’re joined now by Max Blumenthal, who writes about Christians United for Israel in a new piece for The Nation. He’s a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s based in Washington, D.C. His pieces have appeared in The Nation, and Salon, American Prospect, Washington Monthly. His piece is called "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism." Explain, Max.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Christian Zionism has been a force within the Christian right for over 20 years, and they’ve made — the Christian Zionist movement, they’ve made themselves an asset to Israel by sending millions in aid money to Israel. They’re a major source of Israeli tourism, especially during the Second Intifada. They were perhaps the only source of tourism revenue for Israel, which is a key source of revenue for the Israeli government. And on an individual basis, leaders of the Christian Zionist movement have lobbied the government, especially the Bush administration, which has had an open door policy to them. But never before has there been an official Washington lobbying organization for the Christian Zionist movement.

So now you have Christians United for Israel, which was founded in February by John Hagee, who commands a mega-church in San Antonio with 18,000 members. He’s a huge force in Texas politics, a close, personal friend of Tom DeLay. And what this organization has done is they’ve convened all of the major Christian Zionist mega-churches in the country under one umbrella group, and they’ve hired a lobbyist. Hagee has a lot of money through his congregation. And their lobbyist is a guy named David Brog, who’s the former chief of staff to Arlen Specter, and he’s Jewish, so this makes him a huge asset to this organization, because he can beat back criticism from other Jewish leaders that Christian Zionists harbor ulterior motives for supporting Israel, that they have an Armageddon-based agenda for supporting Israel.

And if you look at what John Hagee has written in his books, like Jerusalem Countdown, his most recent book, which cites 17 unnamed Israeli intelligence sources to claim that Iran is producing nuclear suitcase bombs and that Israel must engage in a "nuclear showdown" with Iran or risk committing national suicide, if you look at what he’s written, he does have an Armageddon-based agenda. And so I think what this lobby does, it plays an instrumental PR role on behalf of the Christian Zionist movement in preventing legitimate criticism of their motives for supporting Israel, and they are bolstering what AIPAC is doing and possibly even radicalizing what AIPAC is doing, by providing them a grassroots base in the heartland.

The majority of America’s 60 million evangelicals are premillenial dispensationalists. They believe that the end times could come at any moment, and they’re looking for signs of that, so they’re sympathetic to supporting Israel for these reasons. And so they provide a strong grassroots base. This is the Republican base. This is the only component of the Republican base that still supports Bush’s policies in Iraq without question, unconditionally, and supports Israel’s expansionism. While the American Jewish community is willing to, you know, stand for Israel and show solidarity for Israel, they also support a peace process, and they support a sovereign Palestinian state. But this group doesn’t.

You know, for instance, Pat Robertson went on the 700 Club and said that Ariel Sharon’s descent into a comatose state was punishment for dividing the land for the Gaza withdrawal, for pulling 9,000 extremist settlers out of a huge swath of land. And, you know, then last week, Pat Robertson was flown to Israel to pray with Ehud Olmert and go on the 700 Club and tell his viewership that the Lebanese civilians, the Lebanese society was harboring terrorists, and therefore, civilian casualties were justified. So they play a PR role on behalf of the extremist wing of Israeli political culture. They’re very connected to people like Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s positioning himself to succeed Ehud Olmert in the wake of Olmert’s possibly imminent resignation. So I think there’s a real danger here.

AMY GOODMAN: David Brog is someone you interviewed, Max Blumenthal?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: So you spent time with him. You said that he told you during the meetings with the White House, "CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah," and that the White House instructed Brog not to reveal the names of officials he met with.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, we know in the past that Karl Rove and people in Karl Rove’s shop, like Tim Goeglein and Elliott Abrams, who’s in the State Department, who’s traveling, you know, to Israel with Condoleezza Rice, have met with Christian Zionist groups, so this is not an anomaly. But this group has a much larger voice than any of the other groups that have met with the Bush administration, and they claim — David Brog claimed to me that their principal achievement has been keeping a ceasefire off the table for the past month. So, their principal achievement has been essentially giving Israel a free hand and the IDF a free hand to kind of, you know, ramp up the war, and I think this has had catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and the peace process.

I’m not discounting the influence of AIPAC. I’m not saying that Christians United has anywhere near the influence of AIPAC, but in a Republican-dominated Washington, Christians United represents where the Republican base is at, and that’s why you have Sam Brownback going to their banquet. That’s why Ken Mehlman, the head of the RNC, spoke at their banquet.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of another prominent member of Christians United for Israel, television evangelist Rod Parsley. This is an excerpt of his television show, Breakthrough.

ROD PARSLEY: I was walking down the road the other day! A woman started screaming, sitting in a wheelchair! She said, "God told me that if I ever got near you, I was coming out of this chair!" I said — I’m just walking down the street in my blue jeans! Didn’t have a choir! Didn’t have Wendell! I looked at her! "How long you been in that chair?" "20 years! Now get over here and put your hands on me!" I said, "Alright! Silver and gold have our number! Such as I have, not I can work up, not I can go pray down, such as I have, get ready, it’s about to fall on you! Give I thee in the name of Jesus!" Before I could get my hand on her, she lifted up those legs, kicked the edges of that wheelchair open and went running down the road! And a police officer had to stop her! He said, "What happened?" She said, "God just brought me out of this chair!"

AMY GOODMAN: Evangelist Rod Parsley, an excerpt from his television show, Breakthrough. We’re talking to Max Blumenthal, who has written a piece in The Nation called "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism." Can you talk about the Anti-Defamation League and CUFI and Brog?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, but before that, I just want to kind of explain who Rod Parsley is. He’s a really influential preacher in Ohio, and he’s the leading force behind Ken Blackwell’s campaign there. So I think he’s someone who should be watched. He’s not as well known as Jerry Falwell, but he’s forming a political network in Ohio, and so he’s an instrumental player in this movement and in politics in a swing state.

AMY GOODMAN: Also has a mega-church.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: And he has a mega-church. And I don’t know what he was just talking about there, but he has a more of a crossover style, so he can reach out to people from the inner-city, and he can also reach out to people from the exurbs, who are Republicans, the traditional Republican base. So I think he represents a new generation of the Christian right.

Last year, Anti-Defamation League President Abe Foxman, the president of the largest American Jewish organization, kind of came out of nowhere and gave a speech attacking the Christian right as the greatest threat to American Jewish interests, to constitutional rights of American Jews. I think it was something that had been, you know, that a lot of American Jews had wanted him to do for a long time. ADL has principally focused in the past on supporting Israel and supporting Israel no matter what Israel does. And they’ve also had alliances. Abe Foxman has had alliances with people like Ralph Reed over Israel. He paid to reprint a Ralph Reed editorial supposedly supporting Israel in a full page of the New York Times in the late ’90s. So this represented a break from the past.

And Abe Foxman was immediately attacked by a chorus of Christian right criticism, including David Brog. David Brog was one of the first people to attack him, and he attacked him, of course, from a Jewish perspective, saying, you know, "Evangelicals saved Jews from the Holocaust. We owe them a lot. And they support Israel now." In the Wall Street Journal in an op-ed, in the most influential op-ed section for the conservative movement, he was joined by most evangelical leaders in attacking Foxman, and every single one held Israel over Abe Foxman’s head and said, "If you continue to criticize us, we will withdraw support for Israel." So it just shows that their support for Israel, or their purported support for Israel, is completely conditional, and that they’re using it to weaken the interests of American Jews domestically.

And since then, Abe Foxman has been pretty much silent, although he sends fundraising pitches out warning of the Christian right’s machinations. He doesn’t speak about it publicly anymore. And on Friday or Monday, the ADL ran these two, I thought, really ridiculous full-page ads in the New York Times saying, "Hezbollah must be stopped." Well, the ceasefire had already happened, so they had been stopped. So I thought that was a complete waste of their money. And there’s just a void right now in the Jewish community for saying that the Christian right is a threat.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I wanted to end on the issue of rapture. Last month, Harper’s magazine reported traffic on internet bulletin boards, talking about rapture or end times, greatly increased following the outbreak of violence in the Middle East. One person wrote online, "I’ve been having rapture dreams and I can’t believe that this is really it! We’re on the edge of eternity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Another person wrote, "I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what’s going on in the [Middle East]!!"

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I was listening on July 21 to Janet Parshall, who’s one of the leading evangelical and Republican broadcasters. She can get Dick Cheney on her show in a heartbeat. And she said, "As soon as the missiles started flying between Israel and Hezbollah," she said a voice just brimming with glee, "these are the times we’ve been waiting for. This is straight out of a Sunday school lesson." So the Christian Zionists have a tendency to celebrate things that most Israelis consider tragic. You know, I question whether John Hagee agonizes over the dozens of deaths of Israeli soldiers. I question whether he agonizes over the Israelis, the thousands of Israelis who had to spend the last month in bomb shelters. I don’t think he does agonize. I think what Hagee and the Christian Zionists want is to fight a battle to the last Jew.

AMY GOODMAN: Max Blumenthal, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His piece in The Nation magazine is called "Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism."

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