Chuches for Middle East Peace Quarterly Policy Analysis Newsletter
Christian Advocates Compete for Ear, and Heart of Policymakers
By Corinne Whitlatch, Executive Director
Washington is renowned for hot and steamy summers and it’s going to get hotter around July 16 when Christians United for Israel (CUFI) comes to town. Last summer, just months after Pastor John Hagee founded CUFI, over 3,500 Christian evangelicals came to tell their senators and representatives that they should “use every means at their disposal to permit Israel to continue its anti-terror operations in Gaza as long as its deems necessary. Israel must not be pressured to withdraw its troops before the job has been completed.”
CUFI brought together an array of non-denominational Christian leaders, each with his own mega church, television ministry or publishing company, to galvanize their supporters to urge the U.S. Congress to “not pressure Israel in any way to give land for peace.”
Churches for Middle East Peace, the ecumenical advocacy voice of 22 Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant national bodies that lobbies in support of a two-state solution to the conflict and the sharing of Jerusalem, stands in sharp contrast to CUFI. We meet at the front line of Capitol Hill, each with legions of church members that span the country, each claiming to be guided by our Christian faith traditions. With the arrival of the Christian Zionist voice of CUFI, CMEP has found new openness in Congress for our message – a message grounded in the faith-based principles of peace and justice and the practice of loving compassion.
CUFI’s proclaimed “love” of Israel is causing Congress members to revisit the notion of what it means to be a true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.
In April, CUFI organized a “Night to Honor Israel” event in a St. Paul suburb. The invitation to Representative Betty McCollum (DFL-MN-4) -listed local Jewish organizations that would be attending, including American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Rep. McCollum replied with a public letter (that was copied to the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.), “As an elected official and a person of faith, I feel compelled to speak out against a voice, like Pastor Hagee’s, that promotes or, even worse, preaches intolerance and bigotry – whether in churches, synagogues or mosques. Minnesota is a state in which multiculturalism, religious tolerance, honest debate and a spirit of respect are treasured.”
Rep. McCollum charges Pastor Hagee with an “extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant” and cites his well publicized public statements.
“Those who live by the Quran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews.” (Fresh Air, 9/18/06)
“I would hope the United States would join Israel in a military preemptive strike to take out the nuclear capability of Iran for the salvation of Western civilization. (Jerusalem Post, 3/21/06)
Confronting CUFI’s assertion that the "Night to Honor Israel" event is for people to “speak and act with one voice in support of Israel and the Jewish people,” Rep. McCollum wrote, “Unlike Pastor Hagee, I support working for the ‘roadmap for peace’ in the Middle East, Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with an independent Palestinian state. That is a goal that many of us in Congress share with both Israeli political leaders and citizens.”
CUFI and AIPAC
Pastor Hagee, of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, was reported in Jewish publications to have been “perhaps the most enthusiastically received speaker at the AIPAC conference” in March, sending “the crowd into a frenzy, as delegates chanted “Israel lives.’” James Besser wrote that “Mainstream pro-Israel leaders welcome the Christian Zionists’ numbers, their willingness to raise money for Israel, their political clout and their tourism in Israel, even when fearful Jews stay home. The right-wingers love the Christian Zionists for another reason: Unlike most American Jews, these Christians believe that giving back the West Bank violates God’s covenant with Israel.”
At the AIPAC conference and at the Night to Honor Israel events, Hagee promises his Jewish hosts “a non-conversionary event” - no proselytizing permitted. But, when they read Hagee’s book, “Jerusalem Countdown,” many Jews are chilled by Hagee’s focus on biblical prophecy about cataclysmic wars, the specter of death beyond imagination and a peace that can come only with the Second Coming of Jesus.
A number of prominent Jews are now raising concerns about the fallout of AIPAC’s embrace of Hagee and his followers. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote in the May 18 Forward (a New York Jewish weekly,) that it was a mistake for AIPAC to host Hagee for two reasons. “The first is the way that Hagee’s appearance would be perceived on Capitol Hill. The central principle of Israel advocacy for half a century has been that support of Israel must be broad and bipartisan, and this means appealing to the Republican and Democratic mainstream and avoiding identification with controversial minorities of either party.” Yoffie’s second reason is that Jewish young adults are likely to be alienated from the Jewish establishment and the Jewish state by the accreditation given to Hagee as a spokesman for Israel.
Land for Peace
It is disappointing that Rabbi Yoffie expresses no concern that Pastor Hagee’s condemnation of the whole land-for-peace notion damages the hope and opportunity of reinvigorating U.S. political support for a two-state solution to the conflict.
The divide within the American Jewish community is great and deepening. CMEP’s experience with Jewish American individuals and organizations brings us confidence that within the American Jewish community is a strong and steadfast dedication to peacemaking between Israel and Palestinians, and a growing recognition that Jerusalem must be shared as the political capitol of each state and as sacred space by the three Abrahamic faiths.
Some Jews hold doubts about the good intentions of American Christians – especially mainstream Protestants – for Israel and its future. CMEP encourages church member advocates to highlight their commitment to a resolution of the conflict that makes it possible for Israelis to live in peace, with security and recognized borders, side-by-side a viable state of Palestine.
Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism
The Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Syrian Orthodox church leaders in Jerusalem issued a statement last August on Christian Zionism. They “categorically reject Christian Zionism doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.”
They characterize Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement with an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today. Referring to Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” the Patriarchs and Bishops write, “This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God.”
Evangelicals Who Embrace Two-States
There is a widely held perception that all Christian evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some observers believe that one reason for President Bush’s unwillingness to press Israel to negotiate with Palestinians on final status issues is his fear of losing support among evangelical voters.
For some time now well-known evangelicals have been trying to correct that misperception. Evangelical support for peace and two states is not a new or changed position. In July of 2002, over 40 nationally known evangelicals wrote to the President, “We urge you to employ an even-handed policy toward Israeli and Palestinian leadership so that this bloody conflict will come to a speedy close and both peoples can live without fear and in a spirit of shalom/salaam.”
Five years ago, they tried to update the President and his advisors. “Mr. President, the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy. Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions – of both Israelis and Palestinians – on the basis of biblical standards of justice.”
Nevertheless, when four U.S. evangelicals attended a Brookings Institution sponsored U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar in February 2007, Martin Indyk (who was ambassador to Israel under both Clinton and GW Bush) was surprised by Ron Sider’s question “Why, both in the interest of justice for all and long-term U.S. geopolitical self-interest, does the U.S. not press Israel more vigorously to embrace a two-state solution?”
Sider, in his publication PRISM, reported that Indyk said to him, “I thought all you American evangelicals had a homogenous, pro-Israel position.” Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, assured him that was not true, indicating that large numbers of evangelicals want just, secure states for both Israelis and Palestinians. Indyk encouraged Sider and his colleagues to make such views clear to President Bush. Sider wrote that, “The evangelical participants in the Qatar conference returned to the U.S. determined to inform President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, the American people, and indeed the Muslim world that many American evangelicals long and pray for a two-state solution.” CMEP hopes to report soon that U.S. evangelicals have spoken in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and that the President has heard them.
Generalizations about Christian evangelicals must be resisted. The profound teaching on universal justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed to the world transcends the theological divides within and between faiths.
Churches for Middle East Peace believes that the best response to Christian Zionist advocacy is Christian-identified advocacy that is grounded in justice, practiced with love, committed to peace and aimed toward reconciliation.
During this spring, advocates from across the country have come to Washington DC to talk with their elected officials and their staff. CMEP greatly appreciates these advocates and reminds them to maintain those relationships with calls, letters and emails that are certain to be timely and relevant when guided by CMEP’s action alerts.
Most people are not able to come to Washington DC for congressional meetings, and don’t need to. Actually, advocacy meetings with Representatives and Senators when they are home are very effective. You are more likely to be able to talk with the Member of Congress in a district or state meeting and their staff are often very well informed, especially in Senator’s state offices. The “Summer District Work Period” is Aug. 4-Sept. 4. Pull together a small group from your church, your synod or diocese, or your community.
Instructions for Holding a meeting at a Representative or Senator's local office
If more than one person is participating in the meeting, check schedules with each other before. Only one person should then contact the office.
Here are step-by-step instructions for how to set up the meeting:
1. After finding the information for the local offices of your Representative and/or Senators, call the office and find out the fax number for the office and the name of the person who schedules appointments for the member.
2. Fax a brief letter to the scheduler's attention requesting an appointment. If possible, put the letter on church letterhead. It could read something like the following:
"On behalf of several local church leaders and Churches for Middle East Peace, I write to request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience. At this meeting we would like to discuss present opportunities for US leadership and Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the significance of Jerusalem’s status for a two-state solution to the conflict. Besides myself, the persons who would like to discuss this with you are (names, titles and church affiliations or other credentials.) I will be in touch in the next few days to see what time might work best. If you or your scheduler have any questions or require additional information, please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting with you on this very timely issue."
3. Follow up a day later by calling and asking to speak with the scheduler. Tell him or her who you are, your affiliation and that you are calling to follow up on the request you faxed the previous day for meeting with Sen./Rep. Xxxxx.
4. If after your attempts, the scheduler states that the member will be unable to meet with you, request that a senior staff person in the office meet with your delegation.
5. Plan your meeting, prepare talking points (based on guidance from CMEP action alerts and newsletters) and assign points to specific members of the delegation.
6. Write a thank you note, report to CMEP on your meeting, and build an on-going relationship with the Member and their staff.