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Issue Date:  July 28, 2006

Evangelicals rally for Israel, warn of Iran threat


Thousands of Christians met here last week to declare their unwavering support for Israel and to warn of the threat posed by Iran.

Five months after its founding, Christians United for Israel brought 3,500 Christians to Washington July 18-20 to lobby Congress on behalf of Israel. The political action group aims to become the Christian equivalent of the influential Jewish lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The opening banquet July 18 gave the delegates their talking points. Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon set the tone when he declared that Israel and America alike are under attack by a common enemy. “Ladies and gentlemen, radical Islam is on the march,” said the ambassador, who went on to name Iran as the locus of “Islamo-fascism” and a clear danger to both Israel and the United States. Ayalon said a non-nuclear Iran was brazenly funding terrorism and asked what Iran would do when it acquired nuclear weapons. “Iran must be stopped,” he declared.

One speaker after another kept the focus on Islamo-fascism and Iran in particular. Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman noted that no country is more feared by its Arab neighbors than Iran and called Iran the center of global jihadism. Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said, “It is time for the United States to stand with Israel and to go to the heart of the problem, which is Iran.” Multiple speakers compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler. Texas pastor and televangelist John Hagee, who founded Christians United for Israel, said, “The ghost of Hitler is walking across Europe and the Middle East.”

Hagee called the president of Iran “a new Hitler,” who “intends to develop nuclear weapons to attack Israel and the United States.”

“It’s almost like we’re in 1938 again. I always wondered what I’d do,” said Greg Stephens, a delegate and San Diego pastor.

If the substance of the speeches was somber, the mood was not. The banquet seemed by turns a rally, political convention, Jewish-Christian love fest and religious revival. The Cornerstone Singers interspersed the long evening of speeches by ministers and Christian and Jewish politicians with lively Hebrew songs, a shofar rang out at dramatic points and delegates in the audience waved small U.S. and Israeli flags. The language was rousing, martial and delivered a message that occasionally seem less than completely Christian. “We will not turn the other cheek,” said Larry Huch, a Texas pastor and one of the numerous regional directors of Christians United for Israel who spoke. “We will stand with Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself.”

“What is America and Israel’s aim in fighting Islamo-fascism? Victory at all costs,” Hagee said.

George Morrison, a Colorado pastor and a regional director, told the delegates, “None of us wants war, but none of us will sit back and allow the enemy to take what is rightfully ours.”

The recent outbreak of fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Israel’s incursions into Gaza gave the gathering of Christian supporters of Israel a heightened intensity that was reflected in frequent references to both Hamas and Hezbollah.

“You are Hezbollah’s greatest nightmare,” Gary Bauer, a leader of the Christian right and president of American Values, told the delegates who packed the banquet hall at the Hilton Hotel and spilled into overflow rooms.

At the banquet and at a news conference the following morning, Christians United for Israel’s executive board, which includes Hagee, Bauer and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, made it clear that they opposed any efforts to press Israel to exchange land for peace or to moderate its current attack on Lebanon. “We want Israel to have the ability to respond in the fullest measure possible,” Hagee said.

While the directors said they would take their cue from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, they also said they reserved the right to act independently when they saw fit. Noting that the five-month-old organization had mobilized 3,500 Christians to come to Washington, organization officials anticipated that next year’s Washington-Israel summit would bring 15,000 Christians to Capitol Hill to lobby for Israel. The organization already has 15,000 people signed up for rapid response e-mails and faxes on measures of interest to Israel.

In Texas, Hagee has for many years celebrated “A Night to Honor Israel,” and officials of Christians United for Israel said they hope to sponsor similar evenings in every city across America. The organization sees its purpose as gathering Christians together to speak with one voice in support of Israel.

After receiving their talking points on Iran the night before, delegates fanned out across Capitol Hill July 19 to lobby their congressional representatives in support of Israel. Meeting outside the office of California Sen. Barbara Boxer because the approximately 30 California delegates were too numerous to be accommodated inside the office, Randy Neal, a regional director, said, “The Hill has never taken this community seriously before. We’ve come across the whole country with one single issue. We take it seriously and we expect to be taken seriously.”

In a brief interview with NCR, national director David Brog said the organization’s decision to focus attention on Iran was made even before the recent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Brog, who is Jewish and the former chief of staff for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had joined the organization because he was impressed with the sincerity of Christian support for Israel.

Christian evangelical support for Israel has sometimes been criticized as springing from an end times theology that sees the state of Israel as a precondition for the onset of Armageddon. While acknowledging that their support for Israel is biblically based, leaders shrugged off questions about that.

“If you’re worried about the end of times, you need to focus on President Ahmadinejad,” said Bauer.

“I’m not interested in the end of times. Israel is under the gun now,” said Rabbi Arnold Scheinberg, a friend of Hagee from Texas and a supporter of the organization who spoke at the news conference and banquet.

Margot Patterson is an NCR reporter. Her e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2006

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