A reported 7,000+ supporters attended the July 20-23 Summit of the Christians United For Israel in DC, including over 400 ministers representing mega-churches, Christian media or universities. CUFI claims a staggering membership of over 50 million in America celebrating Christian and Jewish unity, primarily by condemning and attacking those who challenge Israel's right to exist.
But is CUFI's prime directive religious? Political? Both? Some are saying neither.
During last year's conference, Hagee's followers told interviewers the controversial televangelist has prophesized the Apocalypse in which all Jews will be annihilated before the Lord wipes out the rest of humankind - except for Evangelical Christians.
Hagee himself recently has been de-emphasizing this, instructing his followers not to talk to outsiders about the "end times" rapture.
Eyewitnesses claim the attendees had the same wild-eyed theories as previous years, despite Hagee's attempt to repair his image after John McCain condemned him for hate speech. Hagee also had his legal team press YouTube to remove "copyrighted" anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic or homophobic sermons and statements in recent weeks - including third party reports he held no copyright to.
This year's audience was larger by a third, but CUFI staff banned reporters and press, forbidding interviews of CUFI members.
According to "Intellectual Conservative" and self-proclaimed investigative journalist Fern Sidman, CUFI's main objective is to lobby for support of the State of Israel, decrying the threat of Iranian nuclear attack. But the lack of hard evidence of a current nuclear weapons program in Iran suggests the need for a "faith" based approach to the issue, embracing Israel's "chosen" status as a nuclear power exempt from international non-proliferation treaties.
Guest speakers included neocon wonk Frank Gaffney, a former protégé of Richard Perle with extensive military-industrial ties including Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Gaffney's speech presented "nuanced" evidence of Iran's nuclear program, though Gaffney claimed Iraq had WMD as late as February of 2007.
Gaffney was one of several former government officials on the same defense contractor/lobbyist script, presenting hotly disputed accounts of the likelihood of an unprovoked attack by Iran.
Another presenter was former senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) who continued to peddle the Iraq/WMD myth right up until his November 2006 defeat. Santorum talked himself into an awkward corner, however, claiming Shia Iranians' irrational acts stem from their religious fervor as "end-timers", where atheist Russians had the sense to avoid nuclear confrontation because they were not...er, religious kooks.
Despite the media lockdown, some clips from the event have been posted online. This year CUFI directors fed audiences talking points, advising them how to curry influence with elected officials on Capitol Hill. Glatt kosher catering was provided.
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) was the biggest name in attendance, announcing progress on a banking bill imposing sanctions against Iran. Also protested heavily for supporting Hagee, Lieberman disrespected 42,000 petitioners, most of whom were American Jews - "the bond I feel with Pastor John Hagee and each of you" he crowed, "is much stronger than that and so I am proud to stand with you here tonight."
Lieberman also told the audience Iran was arming nukes, training and funding terrorists the world over, yet other then citing a 1984 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina for which some Iranians were suspected, no evidence for these broad claims was given. Instead, Lieberman offered the almost hypnotic suggestion "You see Israel and America under threat" adding "it is a cause greater than yourselves".
Said Pence, "Congressman Engel being here today was an act of moral courage". Engel's legislative record shows less-than moral representation of his own district however, using his foreign affairs committee chair to give voice to radical pro-war Israeli lobbyists, or aiding large telecommunications firms such as Verizon and ClearChannel bring an end to net neutrality.
Engel did rouse the CUFI crowd by praising George W. Bush's go-it-alone cowboy policies in the Middle East. "I want the U.S. to stand squarely and behind our only true ally, Israel" he spouted, specifically stating "I don't want the U.S. to be evenhanded in the Middle East".