With jabs at Obama, CUFI lobbies for Iran sanctions, end to P.A. aid

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, addressing the annual Washington conference of Christians United for Israel, July 21, 2014. (CUFI)

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, addressing the annual Washington conference of Christians United for Israel, July 21, 2014. (CUFI)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With sharp jabs at the Obama administration, Christians United for Israel launched its annual Washington rally with appeals to Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran and cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority.

David Brog, the group’s executive director, said CUFI regarded the Iran nuclear talks as a failure and would back legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would impose new sanctions immediately. The Cruz measure is tougher than legislation already under consideration that would trigger sanctions only if the talks fail.

Brog acknowledged that Cruz’s bill has little chance of success but said it was time to declare the talks a failure.

“Enough was enough,” he said.

The six months of talks between Iran and the major powers, led by the United States, were extended Friday for another four months until Nov. 24, with all sides saying there had been progress toward a sanctions-for-nuclear-rollback deal.

Brog said the activists, numbering nearly 5,000, also would advocate Tuesday, the conference’s lobbying day, for a cutoff in funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as unity talks with Hamas continue. Israel’s government opposes a cutoff in part because of its security cooperation with the P.A.

“We’re very strict about not dictating policy to the Israeli government, but when it comes to money from our government, we do feel a little more entitled,” Brog told JTA.

The unity talks were launched in April, precipitating the collapse of the peace talks with Israel. With Israel and Hamas locked in conflict in the Gaza Strip, the status of the unity talks is unclear.

The CUFI activists who gathered Monday in the cavernous Washington Convention Center heard from pro-Israel leaders and lawmakers, including Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); and the organization’s founder, Pastor John Hagee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a recorded video message. The organization conferred an award on casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have been major backers of pro-Israel and conservative causes.

The tone of the conference veered between joyful praise of Israel, with Christian choirs singing Israeli classics in Hebrew, and harsh criticism of the Obama administration, with Hagee attacking the president and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Referring to the collapsed peace process, Hagee said, “John Kerry, you can park your State Department jet in the hangar, your efforts to win the Nobel Prize at the expense of Israel has failed.”

Dermer focused on the Gaza conflict in his speech, saying that the Israeli army deserved “a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The ambassador parried anti-Israel hecklers who had infiltrated the hall – “There is a section for moral idiots at the back of the room,” he said — and thanked the Obama administration for its support during the recent conflict.

A number of lawmakers, including Cruz, addressed the group on Tuesday.

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