A biblical scholar attends the fifth annual summit of the Christians United for Israel, held in Washington, D.C., from 20 to 22 July 2010, and casts a critical eye on its proceedings, politics, and use of scripture.
PALESTINE STUDIES TV
Alice Bach discusses her special report.
IT WAS ONE OF the hottest days of the summer. I was walking down K Streettoward the Washington Convention Center to attend the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) 2010 summit. Founded in 2006, CUFI after only five years is the largest Christian pro-Israel organization in the United States and is running neck and neck with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in terms of membership. After constant programming in churches and hotel banquet halls, regionally and nationally, it has become a powerful political entity that now claims 428,000 members, holds some 40 events per month nationwide, and boasts a growing network on college campuses, not to mention Hispanic and African American outreach programs. CUFI’s financing and budget are difficult to trace, although its gifts to settlements, particularly the $6 million (CUFI’s figure) to the settlement of Ariel, are widely publicized to indicate the organization’s deep commitment to the expansion of the State of Israel. Over the past year, I had begun to suspect that this group was not just fodder for progressive blogs, so to find out about CUFI and its charismatic founder, preacher, and CEO, John C. Hagee, I came to Washington, D.C., from 20 to 22 July 2010 to attend its fifth annual summit.
Passing a Jews for Jesus van illegally parked in front of the convention center, I realized that now was the time to suppress my impulses as a religion professor who has to tell her undergraduates that there is scant historical evidence to support the narratives in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges, and not more than an inscription or two for the life of King David. Especially, I wanted to avoid the fate of Max Blumenthal, a well-known monitor of CUFI publications and radio shows who has covered the Christian right for nearly a decade and who was thrown out of the 2007 CUFI summit on the very first day. He had seen enough, however, to write that he had “never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington.”
ARISE AND GO TO NINEVEH
Inside the blessedly air-conditioned convention center, I walked up to the uniformed guards armed with airport-like security equipment. “Your bag please,” one uniform said politely while another stepped forward and wanded me. I passed, got my bag back, and was handed over to two smiling young women who showed me where to register and wished me a “blessed day.”
Five people were set up to provide us with registration packets. There were no lines of impatient people. I handed the woman tagged “Rosie” my acceptance letter and she slipped the bar code under an OCR reader. Smiling, she pointed to a large printer behind her. “We’ll have you set in just a minute, Alice. Here is your packet, with all the study materials you will need to get up to CUFI speed!” The bulging packet also contained a complete spiral-bound list of political Washington: descriptions and all-important addresses and phone numbers of all members of Congress, the top administrators of the executive branch, and other assorted Washington pols. There were bumper stickers, tickets to the Holocaust Museum and a map showing how to get there, lists of restaurants, and advertisements for the publications of Pastor Hagee. Rosie tapped the packet. “Now you be sure to watch the DVD from Zion Oil. It might just change your life.”
As it turned out, Zion Oil and Gas, Inc. was not discussed in any of the conference plenaries or breakout sessions. But delegates, especially those from Texas, knew all about the company and some had even invested in it as a kind of protection for Israel. As a Christian Zionist and New Covenant believer, John Brown, founder and chairman of Zion Oil and Gas, had received the calling to help the nation of Israel restore the land by providing the oil and gas necessary for maintaining political and economic independence. His testament and vision statement appeared on the cover of the Zion Oil and Gas packages that the Texas delegates were only too glad to share: <
When first visiting Israel in 1983, I believe that G-d gave me a scripture through the voice of King Solomon at the dedication of the First Temple, which God had instructed him to build. “In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.” (1 Kings 8: 41–43)
With this revelation came Brown’s vision for Big Oil in Israel.
------------------------------------------------------------------------ ALICE BACH is Archbishop Hallinan professor of religious studies and director of the Hallinan Project for Peace and Social Justice at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.