Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism
Brog says he is more comfortable among evangelicals than most Jews, in large part because he shares their viewpoint on social issues like abortion and homosexuality. "I experienced an evolution in my views," Brog explained. "I was a Democrat as late as law school, and when I started off in the political world I was an Arlen Specter Republican. But over the years I've really continued to become more conservative. I don't think my views on social issues line up with those in the Jewish community anymore."
Brog's first major order of business as CUFI's executive director was to preside over its kick-off banquet on July 18, an unqualified success, with more than 3,000 evangelicals packing the Washington Hilton's main ballroom to hear speeches by speakers ranging from Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon to Republican Senators Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, to Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman who has vowed to peel off Jewish voters from the Democratic Party by highlighting the GOP's unwavering support of Israel.
Though CUFI's banquet was planned months in advance, its timing could not have been more opportune, staged as Israel and Hezbollah exchanged their first salvos over Lebanon's southern border. While international diplomats were ratcheting up pressure on the United States to administer a cease-fire, Falwell used his speech at the banquet to issue a stern warning to the White House. "I will rebuke the State Department for any and every time it told Israel to stand down and show restraint," he boomed, sending gales of applause rippling through the packed crowd.
The next day, thousands of attendees of CUFI's banquet fanned out to Congressional offices to lobby lawmakers in support of Israel's military campaign in Lebanon. CUFI's lobbying push coincided with the nearly unanimous passage of an AIPAC-authored House resolution declaring support for Israel. Though CUFI's efforts on the Hill certainly did not hinder support for the resolution, according to Brog, CUFI's impact has been felt "on a more subtle level."
Brog underscored how the latest Middle East crisis has provided a platform for Christian Zionists to exercise their newfound influence: "There is an ongoing debate in Washington over how long to let Israel continue the campaign against Hezbollah--how long will we let Israel fight its war on terror as we fight our own war on terror? And I think the arrival in Washington at that juncture of thousands of Christians who came for one issue and one issue only, to support Israel, sent a very important message to the Administration and the Congress, and I think helped persuade people that they should allow Israel some more time."
M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, a Washington-based group working to restore US support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, dismisses the Christian Zionist lobby as a pilot fish alongside the great white shark of AIPAC. "I think that the only effective pro-Israel lobby is the Jewish pro-Israel lobby," Rosenberg told me. "And that's because the right-wing Christians are Republicans. Israel tends to not even be their main issue; they have abortion and gay marriage higher on their radar. What makes the Jewish pro-Israel lobby more influential is that their people give their donations to anyone who is effective on the issue, Democrat or Republican. These people [Christian Zionists] are locked into Republicans."
But Brog maintains that CUFI represents a novel phenomenon in evangelical politicking. Though CUFI's constituency is almost entirely Republican, Brog says the success of its banquet reflects the increasing importance of Israel to evangelical voters. "It took AIPAC over fifteen years to get over 2,000 people to their annual policy conference. The fact that in five months that we got over 3,000 people to our conference and were turning people away--it sent a message. It's one thing to say, 'Hey, I support Israel among the other issues I support.' It's another to cancel your vacation and fly to Washington and say, 'I'm here, I'm a Christian activist and Israel's more important to me than any other issue.' "
Brog has revealed several "meet and greet" sessions between CUFI and the Bush Administration that highlight the elevated importance of Christian Zionism in GOP-dominated Washington. At the White House, Brog and CUFI's representatives have professed their support for Israel's military campaign in Lebanon and, in Brog's words, "spoke to the Administration about Iran and the need to prevent arms from going to Iran and Hamas, and the need not to let any US aid go to Hamas."
Brog explains that CUFI has become a valuable ally of AIPAC, which helps them coordinate lobbying efforts. "They have a great research staff," he said. Brog has also earned the confidence of the Jewish Federation by making sure to elicit the cooperation of its local chapters before initiating a recruitment drive in the federation's area. "I have absolutely no reservation about working with John Hagee," Houston-area Jewish Federation CEO Lee Wunsch told the Jerusalem Post.
AIPAC spokesman Josh Block declined to answer questions about the extent of CUFI's influence. But he offered a positive, if somewhat canned assessment of their lobbying efforts. "That organization is evidence of the broad American support for the US-Israel relationship that exists in every segment of American society," Block told me. "AIPAC welcomes all organizations working to strengthen the bond between the United States and Israel."
But CUFI is not just any pro-Israel organization.