AN ANTONIO, TEXAS – When entering the offices of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in San Antonio, the first sight seen is the Western Wall.
The model of the Kotel is no coincidence.
A visit to the site in Jerusalem more than 40 years ago inspired CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee to become America’s leading Christian Israel advocate and arguably the world’s most successful builder of support for the Jewish state.
A year ago, Hagee delivered the benediction at the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem, in which he called Israel “the lone torch of freedom in the Middle East” and said the message of the embassy move should be heard by every Islamic terrorist in the halls of the United Nations and at the presidential palace in Iran.
Hagee celebrated the one-year anniversary of the embassy opening by announcing that CUFI had reached the symbolic figure of six million members, less than six months after the organization reached five million, and 13 years after it began with 400.
He said antisemitism becoming more mainstream in America has made CUFI more vital than ever. The six million number was not CUFI’s only recent achievement.
The embassy opening happened after more than 135,000 CUFI members emailed the White House asking US President Donald Trump to keep his pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital.
In March 2018, after a 15-month lobbying campaign, including more than one million emails sent to elected officials by CUFI members, the Taylor Force Act became law, threatening to freeze State Department funds to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends its longstanding practice of compensating terrorists and the families of terrorists convicted in Israeli courts.
CUFI also claims credit for Trump’s cutting all US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in August 2018, and Trump formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in March.
John Hagee Ministries occupies a 50,000 square-foot production center that houses both radio and television studios, 100 telephone prayer partners and a vast distribution center. Currently, Hagee broadcasts on eight major networks, 162 independent television stations and 51 radio stations in more than 190 nations across the globe.
Hagee is the founder of “A Night to Honor Israel,” an annual televised tribute to the nation of Israel and the Jewish people celebrated at his Cornerstone Church, and the annual CUFI on Campus Summit in Washington, during which around 5,000 attendees hear from elected officials, experts, and theologians about the issues facing Israel, and then go to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress in support of key elements of CUFI’s legislative agenda. CUFI also has a department for reaching out to post-college millennials called the Israel Collective.
Past statements by Hagee have prompted controversy. He has been criticized for saying that Islam not only condones but commands violence.
The 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement after audio from one of his sermons in the 1990s seemed to suggest that Adolf Hitler had been fulfilling God’s will by aiding the desire of Jews to return to Israel in accordance with biblical prophecy. Hagee has said his statement was the view of a Jewish theologian and Holocaust survivor and had been “grossly misrepresented.”
Last year, the 79-year-old pastor appointed as CUFI’s co-executive directors his wife, Diana Hagee, and longtime CUFI associate director Shari Dollinger, who is Jewish.
In an interview with the Magazine, Hagee discusses the significance of achieving six million members and looks to the future of Israel, CUFI and himself.
How has CUFI growing into such a massive international force in raising support for Israel surpassed your dreams when you started it?
We never fathomed CUFI would grow so large so quickly, but when you have the favor of God, anything is possible. Our staff, just 50 in total, is the hardest-working team I’ve ever seen, and a great deal of our success is a result of their tireless efforts. But there are tens of millions of Christians in America, and we will continue to enlist, educate and empower them. Six million-plus is a number one can be proud of, but the defenders of Israel neither slumber nor sleep. We’ve only just begun.
What is the significance of your achievement of reaching six million members, with that number having the history it does?
I choose not to view it that way. Obviously, in the context of the Holocaust, that number is horribly significant to any person of conscience, but in the context of CUFI’s growth, it is simply a number that one must cross to get to 10 million and beyond.
The recent Pew Research Center study indicated that Israel’s support is much lower among millennials than among people older than them. What success have you had with the Israel Collective and CUFI on Campus in turning that around?
Israel’s detractors discovered that it was too hard to manipulate those older than the millennial generation, so they choose to focus on people under 35 or still in college. But the answer to the lies of, for example the BDS movement, is the truth. And we’ve seen immense success in reaching thousands of college students and millennials through educational initiatives, by taking future leaders and current millennial influencers to Israel, and by showcasing the truth about the Jewish state through the Israel Collective’s films. It is not an easy battle, but it is one I am confident we are winning.
Can Christian support make up for a loss in support for Israel among young Jewish so-called progressives?
I can’t speak to that. I can simply say that the sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awoken and we will never stop standing with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
How did you decide when you started CUFI to set aside theological differences with Jews and focus on what you have in common start a revolution in Christian-Jewish relations?
I think the Jewish community was understandably leery of Christians rather suddenly offering them unconditional love. For two millennia, the history of Jewish-Christian relations was dark and horrific. But over time, I’ve seen many members of the Jewish community come to understand that we do not seek to convert them nor to impose our personal political beliefs on the leaders of Israel. Because CUFI never strayed from those founding principles, today, in my experience, most members of the Jewish community accept that we are being honest about our intentions. By staying true to our word, the relationship between American Jews and Christians is stronger than ever. It is good for brothers and sisters to sit together in mutual love and respect, and we have made great progress in making that the reality in the United States.
Do you have any anecdotes on your personal relationship with Israeli prime ministers and leaders that you can tell?
Yes, of course I do. But beyond that, I have no comment.
And with American presidents, regarding your personal lobbying for Israel with them?
I’ve met with President Trump and we discussed his moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem – which he of course announced he would do some months later. And CUFI’s relationship with Vice President Mike Pence goes back a decade. I don’t think it’s appropriate to go into more detail about private meetings with these leaders, but I can say unequivocally that there has never been a more pro-Israel president than President Donald Trump.
What are your long-term goals for the organization?
We face great challenges: Antisemitism is on the rise, Iran continues to torment the Middle East, Hamas and Hezbollah remain committed to killing Israelis, and the Palestinian Authority continues to incite violence and hatred against Jews – just to name a few. While we are pleased with having reached six million members, Israel and the Jewish people face many threats, and thus we must continue to grow and at an ever-increasing pace. We must defeat the BDS movement. We must see a day when the Iranian people change the nature of the regime in Tehran. And we must defeat the terrorists that surround the Jewish state. These are not easy goals to achieve, but we will continue to work toward them each and every day.
The untimely death of your friend, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, left a void in Jewish-Christian leadership. Can you reflect on your partnership with him? And, if you don’t mind my asking, what happens to CUFI after you go to heaven?
I was very sad when I learned of Rabbi Eckstein’s passing. He did a great deal for the State of Israel. As to the second portion of your question, we firmly believe that there is no success without a successor, and our leadership for the future is already in place and confirmed. Having said that, my mother lived until she was 99, and I have no plans of retiring any time soon.
What are your hopes for Israel’s future?
I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I pray Israel continues to thrive. And I pray that Jews and Christians will walk together as spiritual brothers and sisters for all time.