Thousands of participants at the 8th Annual Christians United for Israel Summit waved Israeli and American flags Tuesday night, as CUFI’s “Night to Honor Israel” put a spectacular cap on a gathering that critics and friends alike call “a beast.”
Judging from the conversations, both in hallways and on the dais, where Malcolm Hoenlein—who delivered a thundering address Tuesday afternoon—rubbed elbows with evangelical leader John Hagee, the San Antonio pastor, who has mobilized more than one million people to advocate for Israel under the CUFI umbrella, seemed upbeat. In an address before the Summit participants, he reminded all of the positives:
“The Holocaust ended in statehood,” said the man who began developing close ties with Israeli and American Jewish leaders decades ago.
David Brog, a former Washington attorney (and cousin of Ehud Barak), is executive director of CUFI, and he used a breakout session to deliver a masterful response to those who say the Arab-Israeli conflict is a result of what the Left call the Occupation.
“It’s absurd on the face of it,” Brog said, delivering a clear and concise history of the region since 1948. Noting that the PLO was formed in 1964—three years before Israel took the West Bank, Golan Heights, and Sinai in a defensive war—Brog provided participants with plenty of information to answer charges they hear back home in their churches.
On Tuesday afternoon, in a ballroom session titled “Middle East Briefing,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the gathering, and noted his long friendship with Hagee:
“What an achievement! I salute you. You are an oasis of support for Israel, and we have no better friends than you, anywhere on the globe.”
In an interesting response that seemed to resonate with Christians who are becoming aware of an infiltration of the Palestinian narrative into American churches, Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said that “Arab money and the radical Left” have fueled media attacks on Israel. The comment showed a growing awareness of the problem, as CUFI Western Regional Director Randy Neal outlined similar problems to hundreds of college students Sunday afternoon. More than ever, there was sense at this CUFI Summit that the era of unchallenged attacks from the Left is over.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor related a dual story that underscored the difference in the cultures of jihadists and those who oppose them. Cantor said that he had been part of a delegation that heard a detailed briefing on the Iron Dome project, which has saved thousands of Israeli lives during rocket attacks from Gaza.
Cantor said that the designer of the Dome, distraught when a single rocket claimed the life of an Israeli, went “back to the lab” to perfect the defense shield. Cantor noted that this stood in stark contrast to a Palestinian woman from Gaza who was treated in an Israeli hospital, but upon returning for a follow-up visit, she was stopped at a checkpoint, where her bomb belt was discovered. The woman had planned to blow up the very doctors and nurses that had saved her life.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, relished the opportunity to inject a more aggressive response to critics of Israel, telling the participants: “The Jewish lobby is a myth; it’s our job to make it a legend!” Hoenlein also knew what type of language would resonate with the CUFI Summit participants when he said, “Don’t bet against the Jews.”
Many in attendance were brought to tears by the address delivered by Richard Kemp, commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Kemp began by revealing his own Christian faith, and invoked the name of another legend, whom he called “The greatest Christian Zionist in Britain.” He went on to say that he had, that morning, spoken to Orde Wingate. Many in the crowd smiled but were puzzled.
“I spoke to him this morning at Arlington,” Kemp said. Wingate, the British major-general who was a Christian Zionist, helped train what would become the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces. Wingate was killed in a plane crash in India, in 1944, but remains a beloved figure for Israelis and their American supporters.
Kemp delivered an impassioned defense of Israel that brought many in the room to tears. He mentioned several of Israel’s major battlefield achievements, calling the 1976 Entebbe rescue, “The most breathtaking special forces operation the world has ever seen.”
Kemp also referred to the CUFI Summit as a “remarkable event,” and indeed it was. Jews and Christians alike were moved by such displays as the “Wall of Remembrance,” which profiled the 1,000 Israelis killed by jihadist terrorism since 2000.
On Wednesday, participants met with their representatives on Capitol Hill.
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