Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism
Over the past months, the White House has convened a series of off-the-record meetings about its policies in the Middle East with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is "a biblical imperative." CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah.
The White House instructed Brog not to reveal the names of officials he met with, Brog said.
CUFI's advice to the Bush Administration reflects the Armageddon-based foreign-policy views of its founder, John Hagee. Hagee is a fire-and-brimstone preacher from San Antonio who commands the nearly 18,000-member Cornerstone Church and hosts a major TV ministry where he explains to millions of viewers how the end times will unfold. He is also the author of numerous bestselling pulp-prophecy books, like his recent Jerusalem Countdown, in which he cites various unnamed Israeli intelligence sources to claim that Iran is producing nuclear "suitcase bombs." The only way to defeat the Iranian evildoers, he says, is a full-scale military assault.
"The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty," Hagee wrote this year in the Pentecostal magazine Charisma. "Israel and America must confront Iran's nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. For Israel to wait is to risk committing national suicide."
Despite his penchant for extreme rhetoric, or perhaps because of it, Hagee endeared himself to key members of the Israeli right. With the help of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who once spoke at a massive pro-Israel fundraiser at Cornerstone Church, Hagee has raised at least $8.5 million for Israeli social work projects. And as a result of Hagee's influence in the Lone Star State, reflected by his enormous wealth--he reportedly rakes in more than $1 million a year from his television ministry--and his close relationship with the previously omnipotent and now disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay, Washington's Republican leadership is just a phone call away.
Hagee recently united America's largest Christian Zionist congregations and some of the movement's most prominent figures--including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer and Rod Parsley, an Ohio preacher instrumental in launching Republican Ken Blackwell's gubernatorial campaign--under the banner of CUFI, creating the first and only nationwide evangelical political organization dedicated to supporting Israel. Hagee says he would like to see CUFI become "the Christian version of AIPAC," referring to the vaunted pro-Israel group rated second only to the National Rifle Association as the most effective lobby in Washington.
But while Hagee is the public face of CUFI, he remains tethered to his ministry in the Texas plains, far from the wheeling and dealing of inside-the-Beltway culture. To advance his agenda on the Hill, Hagee has tapped David Brog, a seasoned and articulate lawyer who has been Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter's chief of staff, and who boasts myriad connections in Republican Washington. Besides Brog's political acumen, there was another characteristic Hagee found appealing: He is Jewish.
"I think while there are some differences between us as far as our religious views," Brog told me about Hagee, "what matters more, and what is of much deeper significance, is everything that we share. We share a love for Israel and a love for America. And we share an understanding of the war on radical Islamic terror, and that makes us brothers."
As Hagee's political point man, Brog has instantly emerged as an important operative on the Christian right and an effective advocate shielding the movement from institutional Jewish criticism whenever an evangelical leader makes a gaffe. After a series of wildly impolitic remarks by Pat Robertson, including the suggestion that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's descent into a comatose state was God's punishment for the Gaza withdrawal, Brog used an interview with the conservative National Review to defend Robertson as "a good man." When Anti-Defamation League president Abraham Foxman lambasted the Christian right as a dire threat to America's Jewish community, Brog scolded Foxman in a lengthy Wall Street Journal op-ed. "There are very serious threats facing American Jews today, and they have nothing to do with social conservatives," he wrote.