The worst-kept secret in pro-Israel circles is that Christian conservatives are among the staunchest defenders of the Jewish state. Moreover, this is an issue high on their priority list and in some cases is determinative in their voting decisions. Christians United for Israel has 1.8 million members, which dwarfs all other pro-Israel groups. With the on-again-off-again truce leaving travelers to Israel unsettled, CUFI’s leadership and a large contingent of pastors traveled to Israel. Here is my conversation with CUFI’s executive director, David Brog:
Why did you go to Israel at this particular time?
While Israel was at war, and so many other people were cancelling their trips, our pastors and leaders kept calling us wanting a way to show their support. Our recent DC Summit and our full-page newspaper ads about Hamas were not enough — they wanted to stand with Israel in a more concrete way. What they were saying, in essence, was that words were not enough. There are times when you must demonstrate the sincerity of your words through action. Since we couldn’t bring everyone who wanted to come to Israel, we decided to bring a representative group: 51 pastors, one from each state in the union plus the District of Columbia. Within two days, we had filled every open slot.
What did you see firsthand about how Israel is defending itself and addressing concerns about civilians in Gaza?
We heard from Israeli commanders who described the steps Israel takes to protect innocent civilians, from the leaflets to the phone calls to the text messages. They shared with us the price they pay in missed opportunities and lost lives by so consistently giving up the element of surprise. We also heard from British Colonel Richard Kemp, the man who led British forces in Afghanistan. Kemp shared that Israel’s behavior in Gaza meets the highest standards of a moral army, and that Israel often goes further than British and U.S. troops in their effort to safeguard civilians. To illustrate what he found to be the dominant ethos of Israel’s military, Kemp shared with us the story of an air-force pilot he met. The pilot had gone on 17 bombing missions to Gaza and returned without once having fired at his Hamas target. Each time, he had observed civilians near the target. When Kemp asked him if that was frustrating, the pilot replied that, to the contrary, he was proud to serve in a military that went to such lengths to protect innocent human lives.
What is the impression Israelis have of this administration?
Israelis wanted to love President Obama. They, too, got caught up in the narrative that made him such a celebrity here at home. When the President visited Israel, they fell in love with him and hung on his every word. And to this day, Israeli officials will dutifully mention their appreciation for the military aid and cooperation that this administration has provided. But something has changed. Israelis cannot hide their heartbreak. They are baffled by the administration’s inability to muster more moral clarity. Why is the President unable to condemn Hamas more harshly than saying that he “lacks sympathy” for them? Why did Secretary [John] Kerry intervene to promote Hamas’ preferred cease fire terms?
How central was Iran in Israel officials’ thinking? Are they confident we won’t give away the store in Vienna?
Israelis are fighting the puppet, Hamas, but they are keeping their eyes on the Iranian puppet master. Every official we met understands that Iran is and remains the greatest strategic threat and the ultimate source of Israel’s troubles. . . . No one thinks that this Administration will stop Iran from going nuclear. The only question is what Israel can do about it and when.
What could the U.S. do to help win the peace after Israel won the war with Hamas?
We could recognize that Hamas is the ultimate source of Gaza’s suffering. There was no blockade of Gaza until Hamas took it over and turned it into one large terrorist camp. There was no Israeli military action in Gaza until Hamas quite intentionally drew Israel in with its non-stop missile fire. And Israel would have left before any significant death toll had Hamas not rejected and/or violated early cease fires that Israel accepted and observed. The fact is that Palestinian civilians die when Hamas’ efforts to endanger them overcome Israel’s efforts to spare them. The only moral solution is to demilitarize Gaza and free Gazans from Hamas tyranny. This must be the consistent focus of our efforts.
How involved in 2016 will CUFI members be in the elections and what kind of things do they look for in candidates? What worries them?
CUFI members get it. It’s great to have so many friends in Congress, but it’s not enough. We need someone in the White House who shares our values and our worldview. Our members understand that there is a deep moral chasm between Al Qaeda and the U.S. They recognize a similar moral chasm between Israel and the likes of Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS [the Islamic State]. They are wary of any candidate who cannot see this moral element to the conflict. And one more thing. As Christians are being massacred daily by militant Islam, they are done with any politician who cannot utter the words “Islamic terror” and recognize it for the threat that it is. This isn’t theory or ideology. This is life and death.
The MSM act as if evangelical Christians just care about abortion and gay marriage. How central has foreign policy become to these voters?
The MSM also thinks that evangelical Christians are all southern, white and poor. They still prefer to mock this community rather than take the time to understand it. The fact is that since 9/11, evangelical Christians have seen militant Islam as the greatest threat to Americans at home and American values abroad. As hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities are being crushed under the boot of ISIS and their evil twins, our members understand this truth with renewed clarity and urgency. How can someone claim to respect Christian values and honor life while ignoring the greatest threat to both?
If someone is a pro-Israel American what’s the most effective way to translate that into foreign policy decisions?
Vote, vote and vote. Then get to know your members of Congress and their staff personally. Join an organization such as CUFI which will amplify your voice. And never, ever be silent.