Washington, D.C. – Nearly 5,000 Christians from all over the world, including just under 1,000 college students and an 18-member contingent from Nigeria, assembled in our nation’s capital Monday and Tuesday for the ninth annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit.
The self-described “largest pro-Israel organization in the United States,” proudly proclaiming a membership of over 1.75 million members, hosted a two-day event featuring prominent speakers, education updates and celebrations to honor and support the Jewish State.
As the Jewish State finds itself bombarded by rocket fire from the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza, with Israeli troops on the ground in the Palestinian territory rooting out Hamas’ underground weapons cache, Middle East violence took center stage at this year’s conference.
CUFI founder and Chairman Pastor John Hagee opened the summit with a passionate speech that drew cheers, laughs and multiple standing ovations.
Discussion panels and update sessions took place throughout the halls of the Washington Convention Center. The morning session included Weekly Standard editor and Fox News Channel contributor Bill Kristol. A former Harvard University professor, Kristol drew a standing ovation during his introduction.Former director of the Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey discussed the battle back home over energy – utilization of U.S. and Israeli resources as the “key” to defeating Iran and Russia – depleting terrorism of their funding.
As the afternoon session began, the crowd was noticeably growing. This was not surprising as the first panel featured a favorite of the pro-Israel movement, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor Charles Krauthammer. The Washington Post columnist was welcomed with thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
But the afternoon was owned by a lesser-known individual, Israeli Defense Forces Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak, mesmerized the pro-Israel audience with his life experience and perspective.
“When it comes to applying a policy of defense for the existence of the State, that policy cannot be one born of fear,” Anthony stated. “Hamas started this war. The soldiers of Israel must smash their skulls and break their guns. It can be done.”He continued, “This fight must not be fought to a cease fire. This fight must be fought to a victory. How can there be a cease fire when your enemy wants to destroy you?”
The late afternoon session included Erick Stakelbeck of the Christian Broadcasting Network and political and military analyst Elliot Chodoff. The star of this panel was Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose heartfelt comments appeared at times to bring tears to his eyes.
A dry eye was not in house during the introduction of Leah Shaar, the aunt of recently murdered Israeli teenager Gilaad Shaar.With tears rolling down her face, Shaar shared with the crowd her family’s story. “I had a bad feeling when I went on the Internet to get the news from Israel.” She immediately called home, and her mother answered, “Your father has something to tell you.”That is how she learned of her nephew’s kidnapping and the day her family was forever changed.
The evening celebration was called “A NIGHT TO HONOR ISRAEL” – a party of sorts – featuring speakers, music and dance.Attendees waved American and Israeli flags as speakers rallied the crowd and the Hagee family sang Israeli and Jewish songs – with the crowd often breaking out in dance.
During the festivities, anti-Israel protestors managed to sneak into the event. Their few disruptions were met with waving flags, chants of “Yisrael” and at times laughter at their efforts. Security quickly managed to escort the dissenters out of the convention center without any further incident.Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer was the target of the protests. Taking the outbursts in stride, he quickly resumed his speech, exhorting the civilized world to condemn Hamas for using human shields and offering a special shout out to Christians and Kurds suffering in the Middle East.
Tuesday’s activities featured legislators from the House and Senate describing “A View from the Hill” to an enthusiastic crowd.
Longtime Israel supporters Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) opened the morning with statements of unequivocal support.
But the morning was about new leaders – firebrands that brought the crowd to their feet – and kept them standing.
Sen. Ted Cruz made the case against the moral equivalency argument used against Israel.
“Israel has a sovereign right to defend itself,” declared Cruz. “One of the things all of us need to work to hold people accountable is to reject a false moral equivalence between Israel and the terrorists who are seeking to murder others.”Cruz continued, “There is a fundamental difference between Hamas terrorists who want to murder innocent men, women and children, and the nation of Israel that is acting to protect civilians.”
The Texas senator reminded the crowd that Hamas is now part of the Palestinian Unity Government and that he introduced legislation to provide a $5 million reward for the capture of the murderers of U.S. and Israeli teenager Naftali Frenkel.
Not to be outdone, Tim Scott (R-SC) brought the crowd to their feet in what became a revival atmosphere.
Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann closed the morning program. The former candidate for president did not hold back – offering harsh rhetoric toward President Obama – describing him “anti-Israel” and calling on him to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities.CUFI attendees headed to The Hill latemorning for scheduled meetings with legislators and their staff to discuss Israel and furthering support for the Jewish State.
Maxine Dovere contributed to this story.
Paul Miller is a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. He serves as principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-based new media and political consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter @pauliespoint.