Charismatic televangelist John
Hagee thinks that the Rev. Pat Robertson's suggestion that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was payback
from God for withdrawing from Gaza was "insensitive and unnecessary."
But he nevertheless appears to share Robertson's concern that Israel may be
giving up too much land to the Palestinians.
To prevent the George W. Bush administration from pressuring the Israelis into
turning over even more land, Hagee, the pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone
Church and the head of a multimillion-dollar evangelical enterprise, recently
brought together 400 Christian evangelical leaders – representing as many
as 30 million Christians – for an invitation-only "Summit on Israel."
The result was the launch of a new pro-Israel lobbying group called Christians
United for Israel (CUFI).
By 2002, a number of veteran Christian conservative evangelical leaders and
Republican Party power brokers had joined forces with conservative Jewish leaders
to launch several pro-Israel organizations. But the history of Jewish-evangelical
involvement goes back several decades.
According to Rabbi James Rudin, writing in his recently published book, The
Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of U.S.,
"the first [modern] evangelical-Jewish meeting" took place in New
York in 1975.
A bevy of issues including "the meaning of Messiah in both traditions,
Jesus the Jew, biblical theology, and the meaning of modern Israel and Jerusalem
for Christian conservatives and Jews" were discussed.
Rudin points out that "the evangelical commitment to Israel creates some
… ambivalence" in the Jewish community, since that "commitment"
is built on the biblical belief that "without an Israel, an ingathering
of Jewish exiles, [the] major event in Christian eschatology [the Second coming
of Jesus to Jerusalem] cannot take place."
"That is why some evangelicals are dismayed at any Israeli withdrawal
or disengagement from any area of the biblical 'Holy Land.' That is also why
the strong Christian conservative support of Israel is not linked to Middle
East realpolitik or America's growing thirst for Arab oil," Rudin says.
Although not as well known on the national political scene as some of his evangelical
brethren, Hagee has built an impressive evangelical empire and developed strong
political ties to the Republican Party.
Since his 1978 "conversion" to Zionism, he has emphasized establishing
and maintaining good relations with Israeli leaders and conservative sectors
of the U.S. Jewish community. Over the years, he has met with Israeli heads
of state and carved out a special relationship with former Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud Party performed dismally in the recent elections
"Think of CUFI as a Christian version of American Israel Public Affairs
Committee [AIPAC]," the powerful pro-Israel lobby, Hagee told The Jerusalem
Post in an interview a few days before his February summit. "We need
to be able to respond instantly to Washington with our concerns about Israel.
We must join forces to speak as one group and move as one body to [respond to]
the crisis Israel will be facing in the near future."
While Hagee wouldn't spell out which particular crisis he was concerned with,
he did tell the Israeli newspaper that "'the Bible issue', namely what
he considers to be the mistaken policy of trading parts of the biblical Land
of Israel for peace," was at the top of CUFI's list.
"Every state in the Union, every congressional district" will be
accounted for, Hagee added.
A post-meeting report at the John Hagee Ministries Web site said that Christians
United for Israel had put together a national board consisting of Hagee as national
chairman; fundamentalist minister Jerry Falwell; Gary Bauer, president of American
Values; and Pastor George Morrison of Arvada, Colorado.
Christians United for Israel intends to establish a 50-state rapid-response
network that aims to reach every senator and congressman in the U.S. The organization
is also concerned with "protecting marriage, family, and faith," Ha'aretz,
an Israeli newspaper, reported.
Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of San Antonio's Congregation Rodfei Sholom attended
the meeting and called it a historic gathering. Scheinberg told the San Antonio
Express-News, "It's the first nationwide effort I know of to unify
evangelical leaders in support of Israel. These leaders who participated speak
for millions of people. This organization has phenomenal potential in supporting,
defending and advocating for Israel."
Pastor Hagee and Rabbi Scheinberg go way back. In a story entitled "Our
Jewish Roots" published in JHMagazine
[.pdf], Hagee tells of a June 1978 visit to Israel where he "went …
as a tourist and came home a Zionist." When he returned home he decided
to organize "A Night to Honor Israel." According to Hagee's account,
Rabbi Scheinberg "pressed the Jewish Community into taking a chance and
extending its hand in mutual friendship."
The rabbi, pictured with Hagee in several photographs in JHMagazine,
delivered the benediction at the first "A Night to Honor Israel" event
in 1981, and has been a regular participant ever since.
Members of CUFI intend to meet with "legislators in Washington for two
days in July to tell them about the organization and its platform, and express
their support for Israel," according to Ha'aretz. In addition, the
"A Night to Honor Israel" event will be expanded and held in several
CUFI's Web site maintains that the group was founded "to provide a national
organization through which every pro-Israel organization and ministry in America
can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to
"We see Christians in the United States as true friends and important
supporters on the basis of shared values, and we welcome their efforts to strengthen
the ties between Israel and the U.S.," said Israeli Ambassador to the United
States Danny Ayalon.
In addition to running San Antonio's well-attended Cornerstone Church, Hagee
heads up the multimillion-dollar evangelism enterprise called Global Evangelism
Television. Over four decades, members of his ministry have donated millions
to carry out his mission.
Global Evangelism Television has become a massive moneymaking family enterprise
which brings in millions of dollars year after year by selling inspirational
books, tapes, and the promise of prosperity.
Hagee is the author of a number of books including Attack on America –
New York, Jerusalem, and the Role of Terrorism in the Last Days and The
Beginning of the End – The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming
Antichrist. His latest nonfiction book is called Jerusalem
Countdown – A Warning to the World, which landed on bestseller
The new book posits that "biblical prophecy is playing itself out daily
in the Middle East," Agape Press, a Christian-based news service, reported.
"Hagee says Iran's new president, coupled with … [the] victory by
terrorist-backed Hamas in the Palestinian elections, paves the way for an impending
war in the region."
In addition to spearheading the launch of Christians United for Israel, and
appearing on a panel at the recent National Religious Broadcasters convention,
Hagee has aligned himself with a number of Christian Right evangelicals that
condemned the Evangelical Climate Initiative, signed by 86 evangelical leaders
acknowledging the seriousness of global warming and pledging to press for legislation
to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
(Inter Press Service)