The largest pro-Israel organization, with a membership of more than 2 million passionate voters, Christians United for Israel, will be forming a lobbying and political entity (a 501(c)(4) group, in IRS parlance), CUFI Action Fund, that aims to do for Israel what the NRA does for Second Amendment rights. It will announce the move to more than 5,000 members who have gathered in Washington for its annual national conference.
The operation will be headed by evangelical heavyweight and longtime pro-Israel advocate Gary Bauer. “Gary Bauer is someone that has the respect and confidence of the evangelical community,” CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee tells me in an exclusive interview. Bauer says he will have a multimillion-dollar budget and a staff of a dozen to lobby Congress, run independent ads, support pro-Israel candidates and target those who do not put support for the Jewish state at the top of their priority list.
For Bauer, CUFI Action Fund is needed more than ever. “It is needed because the West is under severe attack,” Bauer tells me. “Israel is an outpost of [Western] civilization in one of the most dangerous and hostile parts of the world.” He continues, “Because Israel and the U.S. are attached at the hip and the heart,” Bauer argues, the fate of Israel and the U.S. and the necessity to defeat Islamic radicalism are essential, lest we “sink into another Dark Ages.”
The effort, in one sense, is a recognition that the old collegial, bipartisan model embodied by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is not suited to a time when the White House is hostile to Israel and support for Israel is plummeting on the Democratic side while isolationism lures some on the right. It is not enough simply to pat on the back lawmakers who cast votes in defense of Israel’s security and urge already friendly lawmakers to vote for Iran sanctions or military aid to Israel.
In essence, CUFI Action Fund is bringing its political muscle to the pro-Israel cause. While other groups have much more money, it brings religiously inspired volunteers in every state willing to work solely for the benefit of the U.S.-Israel relationship. These people are the ones who turn out every election, attend caucuses and canvas door to door. Just as no candidate outside deep blue jurisdictions wants to have the NRA breathing down his or her neck, every politician will know that votes concerning Israel will have positive or negative consequences. Pastor Hagee genteelly says, “Every person running for office [in 2016] is going to be aware we have 2.2 million households. If I were a candidate especially in the Republican Party I’d be aware of how many voters will cast their vote principally on Israel.”
That means it will make friends on both sides of the aisle and target anti-Israel candidates and measures whatever the partisan impact. “We’re going to reach out to people of good will across the political spectrum,” Bauer says. Whatever domestic policy differences or alliances exist, Bauer vows that the sole determination in their efforts will be to identify issues and candidates who promote the security of the state of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship. That may include primarying Democrats or Republicans, or running issue ads regardless of the effect on a particular race. In Bauer’s eyes, their mission has taken on particular urgency. “This is the most anti-Israel president in the history of Israel. We know from former Ambassador [Michael] Oren that this administration set out to pick a fight with Israel while sending ‘love notes’ to Iran. It is beyond outrageous.”
CUFI Action Fund’s most immediate concern is obviously Iran. Hagee is obviously distressed that the administration has given the store away. “From the beginning the administration should have negotiated from a position of strength.” Instead of caving on one red line after another, the administration, Hagee says, should have said “This is the deal” and forced Iran to give up enrichment or face regime-crippling sanctions and the threat of military action.
“Deal or no deal,” Bauer says about the Vienna negotiations, “we want to help Congress and the public understand one key point: The administration already caved. By doing so they jeopardize the safety of Israel and undermined the national security of Israel.” If in fact a deal is made, CUFI Action will do what it can to obtain a veto-proof majority of disapproval. While there is talk that the president’s nervous Democratic allies would insist on bringing a vote of approval to the floor — giving the Democrats political cover to add in meaningless language recommitting us to preventing Iran from going nuclear, Bauer scoffs at this PR maneuver. In other words, they are not fooling 2.2 million voters or the audience for CUFI Action ads.
As important as Iran is, this will not be Bauer’s only concern. “Pastor Hagee has another passion,” Bauer says. “This is the increasing repression and hatred directed toward both Christians and Jews. . . . Islamists’ evil world view says Christians and Jews have to die [to re-establish the caliphate.] It is shameful this president can work himself into a frenzy over a remodeling project in Jerusalem while Christians and Jews are under attack.”
And then there is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, an effort to single Israel out among all the countries in the world and use economic bullying to force it to recede to indefensible borders. This week, with delegates in town, Hagee says, “Our objective is to inform 5,000 plus delegates that our objective is get legislation passed in every state capital.” So far, South Carolina and Illinois have passed such measures. Hagee says tersely, “We will boycott the boycotters. If you go after Israel economically, we will go after you.”
It is a measure of CUFI’s influence and the importance of Israel for Republican voters that six presidential candidates (two by video) — former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former New York governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum — will appear. It’s a no-brainer to show up, getting the attention of 5,000 live audience members and millions of others who will see it replayed at home. And, incidentally, if Republicans are looking for “minority outreach,” they should focus on devoted church-going African Americans and Hispanics, whom CUFI has been bringing into their fold for years. (Hagee’s own church is approximately 40 percent Hispanic.)
There is no doubt CUFI Action Fund is preparing for 2016. In Iowa, it has active members organizing down to the county level. There and in other contests CUFI Action Fund will have the chance to show it is a force to be reckoned with, be it on Iran, BDS or support for beleaguered people of faith under threat from jihadists.