Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is a Christian Zionist advocacy organization that promotes the idea that Christians "have a biblical obligation to defend Israel." It was foundedin 2006 by Christian Right leader John Hagee, the influential evangelical pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas.
Describing itself as a "national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel," CUFI is in essence a coalition of churches, parachurch organizations, ministries, and individuals operating under the overall leadership of John Hagee.
David Brog, CUFI's executive director, describes CUFI members as having "a profound sense of guilt in the Christian Era, and how the Holocaust happened and Christians didn't do anything about it."
Among CUFI's core activities are its "Nights to Honor Israel" events, which take place at the local and national levels. During these events, members express "solidarity with the State of Israel and the Jewish people." There is also an annual summit in Washington, D.C., which typically features high-profile elected officials.
CUFI runs a magazine, "The Torch"; produces actions alerts to mobilize its "over one million members to contact their members of Congress or the Administration on critical policy issues"; and has a presence on university campuses through its "CUFI ON CAMPUS" program, which "equips and trains Christian students to become effective pro-Israel advocates."
In July 2015, CUFI launched a lobbying arm, CUFI Action Fund. Gary Bauer, a CUFI board member and former Republican presidential candidate was appointed as the organization's director. He said at the time of CUFI Action's launch: "You can't just bomb Washington, D.C. three days per year. You have got to actually occupy territory."
An early CUFI Action goal was to oppose the Iran deal and persuade members of Congress to vote against it. Baer stated at the time that CUFI Action will argue that "anybody in either party who votes for this deal is putting their career in public life … over to the not-so-tender mercy of the mullahs of Iran."
This lobbying strategy closely aligns with arguments forwarded by the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens during an off-the-record call with CUFI members in July 2015. Said Stephens, "Someone should say, this is going to be like your vote for the Iraq War. This is going to come back to haunt you. Mark my words, it will come back to haunt you. … This vote will be a stain. You will have to walk away from it at some point or another. You will have to explain it. And some of you may in fact lose your seats because of your vote for this deal."
CUFI views a Jewish-controlled Israel as a necessary precondition for precipitating the end times. The "ingathering of Jews to Israel" and "the elimination of Rabbinic Judaism" are preconditions "for the 1000 year reign of Christ."
Accordingly, CUFI supports Israeli settlements and opposes the two-state solution. "Those who divide [the land of Israel] will have a day in judgment," Hagee declared in a 2008 CUFI conference.
The group has criticized U.S. efforts to mediate peace between Israel and the Palestinians and has pushed for aggressive U.S. actions in the Middle East—particularly against Iran. According to CUFI's website, "Bible-believing Christians must speak up and stand up for Israel. We must act to do whatever we can to protect Israel's 6 million Jews from the second Holocaust. We must get it right this time. Our faith demands it. The times require it. Silence is not an option."
CUFI's promotion of militarist U.S. policies in the Middle East has allowed it to bring together disparate sectors of the American Right—including Christian conservatives, Republican Party insiders, and neoconservatives—behind a vision of Mideast peace that is rooted in CUFI's belief that Israel plays a key part in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has criticized CUFI and argued that its far-right ideology could threaten the bipartisan support Israel has enjoyed in the United States by driving away young, socially-liberal Jews from supporting Israel. "What they mean by support of Israel and we mean by support of Israel are two very different things," Yoffie said in a 2008 conference of the Union of Reform Judaism. (In contrast, neoconservative trailbrazer Irving Kristol once said, referring to the beliefs of Christian Zionists, "It is their theology; but it is our Israel.")Yoffie has on other occasions described CUFI's John Hagee as someone "who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology, and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict."
In 2014, CUFI also launched a new program called the "Israel Collective," the aim of which is to build "vibrant relationships between American Christians and the people of the Holy Land." Israel Collective says on its website: "Our goal is to create a community that walks out the teachings of Jesus by asking how we can love Israelis and Palestinians in a way that makes God smile."
Observers have noted that the Israel Collective is attempting to attract younger evangelicals who do not share the same unabashed "pro-Israel" worldview of CUFI through a "kindler, gentler" approach on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Though this rhetoric might be attractive to young people, CUFI's claims about a loving Israel do not reconcile with the reality on the ground," one writer has said.
In 2014, CUFI head David Brog wrote a revelatory article highlighting his worry over increasing numbers of evangelicals becoming less fervently "pro-Israel." He opined: "The days of taking evangelical support for Israel for granted are over."
He added about younger evangelicals becoming more critical of Israel: "With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream. In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation."
Neoconservatives have frequently joined Christian Right figures and groups in pushing advocacy campaigns. As reporter Jim Lobe explains, the Christian Right's support for the Israeli state "explains the willingness of Jewish neo-cons to overlook the anti-Semitism of their Christian Right allies, whose own identification with Israel is based on a 'Christian Zionist' reading of Biblical scripture that recognizes a God-given right of the Jews to what both religions consider the 'Holy Land,' at least until the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ."
CUFI's executive board is comprised largely of conservative evangelical leaders—including neoconservative fellow traveler Gary Bauer—who share Hagee's belief in dispensationalism, a core idea of Christian Zionism that holds that Jews must control certain parts of the biblical "Holy Land" as a precondition for the Second Coming. Bauer, who is the president of the conservative American Values organization and was one of the founding members of the Project for the New American Century, has also served on the executive boards of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Emergency Committee for Israel.
Other neoconservative supporters of CUFI have included Elliott Abrams, the controversial State Department figure in the Reagan administration who was convicted (and later pardoned) for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. As George W. Bush's deputy national security advisor, Abrams, who has a long track record of courting Christian Right figures, discussed CUFI's Middle East agenda with Hagee at the White House after the group's first conference in Washington, DC, in November 2006.
According to the New York Times, Hagee said he told Abrams, "Every time there has been a fight like this [between Israel and its neighbors] over the last 50 years, the State Department would send someone over in a jet to call for a cease-fire. The terrorists would rest, rearm, and retaliate. … Appeasement has never helped the Jewish people." Abrams essentially agreed with him, Hagee said.
Political Influence and Summits
CUFI's profile in Washington rose quickly after it was established, according to writer Max Blumenthal. "Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is 'a biblical imperative,'" Blumenthal reported in August 2006. "CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, 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."
Among the Republican Party insiders who have supported CUFI are several current and former congressmen, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former House members Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Tom DeLay (R-TX). Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who has spoken at CUFI events, once likened Hagee to a modern-day Moses.
The 2014 annual CUFI summit, which coincided with the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, attracted an array of politicians, media personalities, and conservative figures. On-stage guests included personalities from Fox News, Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Bill Kristol, former CIA director James Woolsey, Elliot Abrams, and Sens. Lindsey Graham an Ted Cruz. "We've come to Washington to ask our government to stop demanding for Israel to show restraint," John Hagee said at the event. "Let Israel finish the job. Let every rocket be dismantled. Let every tunnel be destroyed."
At the 2014 summit, Hagee gave a special award to Republican super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are key CUFI allies. Ted Cruz, a presumptive 2016 Republican presidential nominee, also gave a speech at the event, which reportedly received the loudest ovation of the night. Perhaps the most provocative comment of the night came from a member of the Israeli Defense Forces, Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, who was a featured speaker. "Hamas started this war, the soldiers of Israel must smash their skulls and break their spines," Anthony said to loud applause.
CUFI's 2015 national summit also attracted a wide array of conservative politicians and members of the Israeli government. Numerous 2016 Republican presidential candidates addressed the event, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also a speaker as was Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
Huckabee and Santorum both disavowed the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the conference, while Bush said Israeli settlement in "areas that are developed" should continue to expand. Cruz similarly stated that the United States should not "try to impose a specific solution on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians."
Netanyahu has attended other CUFI summits in the past by way of satellite. Hagee addressed Netanyahu during CUFI's 2009 annual summit in Washington, D.C., saying, "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." Netanyahu replied, "Today millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for freedom, millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for truth, millions of Christians stand for Israel because they want to see genuine peace in the Holy Land."
CUFI staunchly supported Netanyahu's controversial March 2015 speech to Congress criticizing the Obama administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran. Brog said at the time that it was every member of Congress's "responsibility" to attend the address.
In July 2007, McCain, who received Hagee's endorsement during the 2008 Republican presidential primary, spoke at the group's Washington meeting to warn of threats from Iran and dire consequences if the United States withdraws from Iraq. He also used his opportunity with a CUFI audience to publicly affirm his Christian beliefs. According to MSNBC, "The Arizona senator concluded his remarks by commenting on his own faith.… He said that his own personal religious beliefs helped get him through his time in a Vietnamese prison camp, telling a story of a guard who drew a crucifix on the ground for him when he was allowed to go outside on Christmas Day one year."
McCain's enchantment with CUFI ultimately proved to be short-lived after a video of John Hagee surfaced in which he suggested the Holocaust was a essentially a fated Biblical event meant to force Jews to settle in Israel. In the 2005 video, Hagee said, "then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter." The publicity and outrage this video garnered resulted in McCain rejecting Hagee's endorsement of his presidential candidacy.
John Hagee has a long history of making Islamophobic statements. In a 2006 interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross, Hagee said, "Well Islam in general – those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews."
In another instance, Hagee told his congregation, "Since the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon, on September the 11th, American politicians have tripped over themselves to state that the vast majority of Muslims living in the United States are just ordinary people who love America and are loyal to America. Is that true? Is that really true?"
One of the themes of the 2007 CUFI conference (whose attendees included Santorum, Delay, Lieberman, and Gingrich) was the threat of Islam and—parroting the language of fear promoted by neoconservative writers like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes—"Islamofascism." "The lure of a sympathetic crowd and the chance to trade pieties with the most popular televangelists in the nation attracted Sen. Joe Lieberman and ex-senator Rick Santorum," the American Conservative reported. "Each preached to the converted: Islamic-fascism is the most dangerous threat facing the United States, and Israel is the frontline."
One conference attendee, sharing her experience at the conference, wrote in a letter to the Concord Monitor that she learned there are "eight known terrorist groups in the United States ready to strike." The most "eloquent and striking speech," according to the letter writer, was made by Newt Gingrich, who claimed to worry every day because "Iran has sworn to wipe Israel off the map with a nuclear or biological attack; after that, the U.S."
Supporters in the hawkish pro-Israel community have included the Zionist Organization for America (ZOA), which gave Hagee its ZOA Service Award and Israel Award (reportedly presented to him by former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick).
One Jerusalem, a Likud-aligned advocacy group that is closely affiliated with Israeli right-wing figures like Natan Sharansky, has also promoted CUFI and Hagee. In January 2007, One Jerusalem hosted a conference call with Hagee, whom the group termed "an honest, sincere, and genuine friend of Israel and the Jewish people. His support should be embraced and appreciated."
According to One Jerusalem, during the call, Hagee said CUFI had three main functions: "To provide a rapid response team of tens of millions of Christians to contact Washington, on a moment's notice, on issues pertaining to Israel; to organize an annual Washington Summit that would bring thousands of Christians to Capitol Hill with the sole purpose of advocating for Israel; to host a Night to Honor Israel in every major U.S. City."