Tuesday night’s "A Night to Honor Israel" at the Christians United for Israel Conference featured hundreds dancing the hora, performances of "Jersualem of Gold" and "Od Avinu Chai," thousands waving Israeli and American flags and lots of speeches. First, the brief, and then some details on how CUFI was handling media at the conference:
WASHINGTON (JTA) — A top Christian Zionist leader criticized the Obama administration’s "pressuring" of Israel.
While not mentioning President Obama by name, Christians United for Israel founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee said Tuesday evening at the organization’s Washington conference that "America is singling out Israel" in the Middle East.
"Despite all of the risks Israel has taken for peace, our government is pressuring Israel to take more risks," said Hagee in a speech to 4,000 delegates at the group’s "A Night to Honor Israel" banquet. "Hello Congress, we’re putting pressure on the wrong people here. You want to get tough, get tough with the terrorists, not the only democracy in the Middle East."
Earlier in the day, when introducing a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hagee specifically criticized U.S. demands that Israel freeze settlement construction, saying that he and his supporters back "Israel’s sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of israel as you see fit and not yield to the presssure of the United States government."
CUFI also presented its Defender of Israel Award to U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who noted that he had attended three of the organization’s four annual conferences. Lieberman also made an apparent reference to Obama’s Middle policy, saying "the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israelis living on the West Bank but the regime in Tehran."
The banquet also included greetings from the new Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, a speech from Jewish radio talk show host Dennis Prager and a muscial performance from Dudu Fisher. A number of delegates at one point danced the hora during the singing of "Hava Nagila."
CUFI delegates lobbied Wednesday on Capitol Hill, with Executive Director David Brog saying they would be urging their members of Congress not to "pressure" Israel but to respect "Israel’s democratically elected government" and "work with them." They also will be asking for congressional support on two pieces of Iran-related legislation having to do with sanctions and divestment.
Apparently not happy with some of the media coverage of their organization in previous years, Christians United For Israel didn’t allow reporters to roam the Washington Convention Center talking to delegates during its annual conference this week, and the media was escorted from the press room to the rooms where conference events took place. And just in case delegates happened to meet up with anyone from the media outside the convention hall, they were urged to avoid them by conservative Christian activist Gary Bauer, who was moderating a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon.
"Try hard to resist the temptation," he told the 4,000 person crowd. "These folks are not really on our side" and "want to make Israel look bad."
CUFI officials did arrange interviews with pre-selected delegates per media request. Scott Thomas, the senior pastor at Without Walls Central in Lakeland, Fla., and CUFI’s Florida state director, told members of the Jewish press he could understand why many Jews might be wary of allying with Christians on Israel.
"I’d be a bit leery and questioning myself," he said. "We’re trying to reverse a history of anti-Semitism and replacement theology.
"We’re going to continue to keep the hand extended," he added, and hopefully Jews will realize it is "genuine."
Thomas also reiterated what CUFI leaders have repeatedly emphasized, that their support of Israel is not related to Christian eschatology which says Israel has a central role in bringing about the second coming of Jesus Christ. They say that has nothing to do with their backing of the Jewish state, because there is nothing they can do to speed up that process.
"This is not apocalyptic," said Thomas. "We don’t control future events."
Thomas said his support is based in Genesis, which in chapter 12 states that God will bless those who blesses the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews, and notes that his Christian faith couldn’t exist without the foundation of Judaism.