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Issue Date:  November 3, 2006

Christian Zionists rally in San Antonio

Speakers say Islam is the enemy and advocate attacking Iran

San Antonio

In 1981, Texas pastor and televangelist John Hagee put on the first Night to Honor Israel at his church in San Antonio. Israel had a few months before bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, and the Christian Zionist preacher wanted to show his support for Israel after its destruction of the nuclear reactor had been criticized around the world.

Twenty-five years later, Hagee, who now advocates a strike by the United States or Israel on Iran’s nuclear installations, observed the silver anniversary of the Church of the Cornerstone’s annual Night to Honor Israel, an event that was part of a three-day celebration Oct. 20-22 designed to show solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people and to advance the message that Israel and America are in danger.

For the first time, Christians United for Israel, CUFI, a lobbying group Hagee established nine months ago, presented the event. It was billed as the first “national” Night to Honor Israel, an event that CUFI directors are taking to other U.S. cities. Such evenings have already been held in Berkeley, Sacramento and Pasadena, Calif.; St. Louis; Arvada, Colo.; and Carlsbad, N.M., and are scheduled for several other cities.

For Hagee, bringing together Christian ministers from across the country, many of them representing  megachurches like his own, with local and national Jewish representatives was the fulfillment of a vision he’d had since 1981 when he tried to summon 30 Christian ministers to host such an event and 29 of them left at the first break. “It was an absolute failure, a royal bust,” he said, recalling the event.

But this year’s national event in San Antonio was “a new day” for Hagee. Since 1981, he and others have witnessed the emergence of Christian Zionism as a religious and political movement with growing political clout.

The evolving agenda of that movement was on display throughout the weekend, particularly at the special Middle East intelligence briefing on Saturday, Oct. 21, which featured former CIA director James Woolsey; a military adviser and former chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon; and Joseph Ginat, director of the Strategic Dialogue Center at the Netanya Academic College in Israel.

Around 3,000 people paid $25 each to attend the three-hour-plus briefing at the Church of the Cornerstone in which the spectre of “Islamofascism” was regularly invoked.

Woolsey said America is at war with a new enemy. Previously, it had faced secular totalitarian regimes. Now it faces several theocratic totalitarian regimes rooted, he said, in one of the world’s great religions, Islam. “They hate us not for what we’ve done wrong but what we do right,” Woolsey said. “They hate us for our freedom.”

While many analysts have said that Iran is years away from producing a nuclear weapon, Israeli scholar Joseph Ginat warned that the West has only six to 10 months to take military action against Iran. A strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be difficult but not impossible, he said. He expressed little hope that a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear power could be negotiated.

“In the culture of the Arab world, there is a dimension known as the culture of lies,” said Ginat.

A grim picture

Yaalon painted a grim picture of an ongoing war that he said had already started between the West and radical Islam, one he said will go on for generations. “The war is between the Western culture, the culture which supports compassion, human rights and dignity, freedom, against those that promote death -- death for any freedom.”

Yaalon argued that opposition to Israel has little to do with its occupation of the Palestinian territories. “The problem is not what they fabricate about occupation or apartheid,” he said.

Two Arab speakers appeared on the platform. Brigitte Gabriel, a former TV anchor for “World News” on the Middle East Television network and the author of Why They Hate, described herself as a “Lebanese Zionist” and recounted traumatic episodes growing up as a Lebanese Christian during the civil war in Lebanon. Walid Shoebat, a former PLO terrorist who converted to Christianity and is the author of Why I Left Jihad, also drew on his personal experiences.

Gabriel said Israel’s enemies are America’s, warned of Hamas cells in the United States -- “Hamas has the largest infrastructure on American soil” -- and declared, “Our enemy is in Islamic mosques throughout the U.S.”

Shoebat was just as explicit in his denunciation of Islam. There are peaceful Muslims, he conceded, but said those were the Muslims who knew little about their religion. “Our job is to liberate 1.2 billion Muslims and sometimes it has to be with a baseball bat,” Shoebat said, who compared Islam to Nazism.

The two Arab speakers’ personal stories hit an obvious chord with the audience. But despite the enthusiastic cheers and ovations, not everyone was convinced. Susan Ives, the director of communications at the interfaith peaceCENTER in San Antonio and a critic of Hagee, said she had come to the briefing skeptical of Christian Zionism but attempting to have an open mind. Ives said she found the briefing “very frightening.”

“I’ve never been in any placed that called itself a Christian setting where there was such hatred,” Ives said.

“If I were a Muslim, I would have been very, very afraid at the end of those four hours. They were depicting Islam as a hateful religion at the very least, especially the two Arab speakers. But almost every single one of them talked about Islam as a religion of liars.”

“It has to be a real wake-up call for people who do not buy into this theology,” Ives said.

That theology is rooted in a view of Biblical prophecy and the end times that leads Christian Zionists to unstintingly support the state of Israel. Christian Zionists regard the creation of Israel in 1948 as one of the most significant events in history, a necessary prelude to the Rapture and Armageddon. Like Hagee, most Christian Zionists oppose any territorial concessions on the part of Israel for any reason.

‘Let it be known’

In addition to the intelligence briefing, the weekend celebration of Israel and the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, included a carnival, food booths and a marketplace selling goods by scores of Israeli vendors. An Israeli choir sang at the regular Sunday services and the concluding celebration.

The latter was an extravaganza that began with the American and Israeli national anthems and went on to evoke memories of the Holocaust. The Cornerstone Church choir and drama department sang Jewish and Israeli songs and at one point filed into a darkened church holding electric candles and small Israeli flags as a voice intoned, “Israel, you are not alone. Not only are you not alone, you are loved. Let it be known from this night on, Israel has a family. Let it be known in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut ... that night and day we will watch and pray. ”

Messages from Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking the congregation and Hagee for their support for Israel were broadcast over two large video screens.

In his keynote address, Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, spoke of recent attempts to deny Israel’s legitimacy, singling out for criticism Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of the University of Chicago and Harvard for their recent “sophomoric” paper critical of the Jewish lobby, and condemned what he said were attempts to give moral equivalency to Hezbollah and Israel in the recent war in Lebanon.

Critics of Christian Zionists say their unequivocal support for Israel comes at the expense of Palestinians, including local Christian Palestinians, and jeopardizes prospects for peace.

“The dangers of Christian Zionism haven’t been talked about,” said Art Preisinger, a retired Lutheran minister and history professor attending the celebration at Cornerstone Church.

But most of the Christians in attendance for the weekend were wholehearted in their support for Hagee’s message.

Elesi Nagalu, 41, said nobody should be telling Israel what to do. “That land [Israel] belongs to the Jewish people. They [Palestinians] might have property deeds, but property deeds don’t mean anything to me.”

Nagalu, who had come to San Antonio from San Mateo, Calif., said she had enjoyed the weekend thoroughly. “God willing, I’ll be here next year. If Jesus doesn’t return before then.”

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

National Catholic Reporter, November 3, 2006

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