Is this the new face of American Zionism?

With the largest Zionist movement being CUFI, the question of how to associate with them arises.

joe lieberman311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
joe lieberman311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
At the recent Christians United For Israel (CUFI) Summit in Washington, Pastor John Hagee’s keynote address repeated a refrain, echoed by 4,500 attendees: “I am an Israeli.” Hagee was not just firing up his audience; he was declaring victory.
Since 2006, Jewish communal institutions, leaders and media in the United States have agonized over how to associate, and in what capacity, with Pastor Hagee in particular and with CUFI, and the Christian Zionist movement generally. Lost in the by now ritualized analysis of Hagee’s controversial statements, apocalyptic theology and harshly partisan politics is the new reality that, when it comes to Zionism in America, the question is no longer whether or not to do business with Hagee; he now owns the store.
Speaking at The Hampton Synagogue immediately following the summit, Hagee noted that the attendees represented 87% of all Congressional districts and a larger CUFI membership of 430,000. In contrast, AIPAC, self-described as “America’s leading pro- Israel lobby,” boasts only 100,000 members. Even more telling than the numbers are the trajectories. AIPAC has been active for 50 years, while CUFI is only five years old. Moving forward, CUFI will continue to represent more Americans, more money and, with them, more raw clout in Washington than any Jewish Zionist organization or lobby. Even as various surveys and studies chart the re-centering of the American Jewish population into major urban areas, Hagee has built a truly national organization, motivated and energized by religious fervor.
DAVID BROG, Executive Director of CUFI, is certainly not waiting for the organized Jewish community to make up its mind.
“Those who are opposed to us typically have a worldview that prevents them from appreciating us,” he said, “[But] we’ll be able to help Israel without them.”
CUFI’s ascendancy means that dialogue and engagement with Christian Zionists is no longer optional, serious disagreements notwithstanding.
Hagee’s appearance at The Hampton Synagogue, as a guest of Rabbi Marc Schneier, marked his first address to a synagogue in the New York area.
Support for Israel was the only topic of discussion, and most of the congregation walked away with a sense of two religious and communal leaders, holding opposing political world-views, forming a united front on behalf of Israel.
However, perhaps the most important facet of the evening was the unspoken truth that, even as they stood together in terms of Israel, a vast ideological gulf divides Rabbi Schneier from Pastor Hagee. In particular, Schneier continues to lead efforts working toward political and religious reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world, including interfaith efforts sponsored by the Saudi royal family. Hagee believes that global military conflict with the Muslim world is not only inevitable, but biblically preordained.
To be sure, any association with Hagee’s radical theological and ideological stances involves discomfort, and possibly even danger. Writer and journalist Peter Beinart generated controversy this past June with a much-discussed article in The New York Review of Books which argued that, “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”
John Hagee intoning “I am an Israeli” could well be Beinart's nightmare scenario.
Historians will likely wonder how a mega-church pastor and televangelist from San Antonio became the most important and influential Zionist leader in the Diaspora. In the meantime, our own relevance hinges on how well we understand that the future of American Zionism lies in the space between Hagee’s audience in a Washington, D.C.
conference room and his audience in a Westhampton Beach synagogue.
Avraham Bronstein serves as assistant rabbi of The Hampton Synagogue, Westhampton Beach, NY