Sandra Hagee Parker, chair of the CUFI Action Fund. Credit: CUFI.
by Dmitriy Shapiro
(JNS) — Christians United for Israel is set to hold its annual summit this weekend, feeling new urgency in its mission to fight for Israel as attacks on Israel and Jewish people increase in the United States.
Sandra Hagee Parker, chair of the CUFI Action Fund, the organization’s 501(c)4, said that this year, the title of the summit’s second-day session “Never Again Is Now” is more pressing than ever for the organization.
“I think all of us had shock and awe,” she said, following the May conflict between Hamas and Israel, noting “the increase in violence targeting Jews on the streets of the United States of America. These are things that we’ve maybe only been used to seeing in the Middle East or unfortunately Europe.”
Anti-Semitic attacks like the one on outdoor Jewish diners in Beverly Hills, Calif., and in New York City, was a “tsunami, not a rising tide,” said Parker.
From its beginnings in 2006, the grassroots organization founded by evangelical Pastor John Hagee has stood against anti-Semitism in churches, local communities and schools, as well as on Capitol Hill.
“Pastor Hagee has said before, ‘If there’s a line to be drawn, then draw it around Christians and Jews together. We’re going to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder and there’s no room for daylight to separate us’,” said Parker, his daughter.
This also means combating the threats posed to Israel from its enemies as well, such as that from Iran and its proxies dug in around the northern and southern borders, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, poised to attack, added CUFI co-executive director Shari Dollinger.
This year, CUFI plans to have a much smaller annual summit than usual, which annually brings in as many as 5,000 members for a multi-day event in Washington. This weekend’s summit will be held in Dallas, and is invite-only for about 700 of the organization’s leaders and donors. It will combine CUFI’s annual January leadership conference and its summertime summit, with the opening plenary session on Sunday evening livestreamed.
Last year, instead of holding an in-person summit, CUFI was one of the first major organizations to feature a full virtual conference. Due to lingering coronavirus restrictions, it was unable to hold a large summit in Washington but was still looking to do something in person.
“We knew that it was important for our members to gather in person. There’s a hunger and a need to be together,” said Dollinger. “So we looked to an alternative of where we would facilitate a meaningful opportunity for our folks to come together to enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
While Texas no longer has capacity limits, the organization felt the hotel that would best serve its purposes was one on Dallas Fort-Worth Airport property, where federal capacity limits still apply.
“We are going to have the same type of important content that we discuss in D.C., just not in D.C.,” she said. “And being out of D.C., it opens us up to talk more about what has been happening at a state level, which has been tremendously exciting and productive during COVID.”
Despite having an online summit, last year generated 300,000 letters to lawmakers from CUFI’s members in support of legislation the organization backed through email “Action Alerts,” and all three pieces of legislation were successful.
This year, the organization plans to do the same.
CUFI’s work on the local and state level through activists also met with success over the past year, Parker said, in efforts to encourage states to pass laws against the BDS movement and legislation supporting Holocaust education in public schools.
“Our people don’t see these issues of course as a political issue. They see these issues as a biblical issue,” said Parker. “The Bible tells us to support Israel, to ‘bless Israel and you’ll be blessed.’ To pray for the ‘peace of Jerusalem’.”
On the legislation and programmatic docket
CUFI’s legislative agenda this year includes lobbying for the fiscal year 2022 House and Senate’s State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bills, which will provide $3.3 billion in military aid to Israel, 75 percent of which must be spent in the United States.
“So even though bills like this… sometimes people think they’re rote because they’re annual. It’s important for us to make sure that our people and even beyond our own constituency understand the value of bills like this and ensuring that our intelligence teams continue to work together, and that we do everything we can to help Israel protect its quantitative and qualitative military edge,” explained Parker.
However, CUFI opposes the $225 million provided for economic support programs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which it believes will be funneled into the “pay-for-slay” program by the Palestinian Authority.
“That is something that we will be working on in terms of getting the Senate to take that out and that the funding of the $3.3 billion goes with no conditions,” said Parker. “We are not opposed to aid to those who need it, but money is fungible. So if there are tangible needs that need to be met, let’s meet them, but let’s not be giving anybody a blank check.”
The second legislation CUFI will support is the U.S. Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2021, which would establish a grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to fund cooperative cybersecurity research between the United States and Israel.
“We need to look no further than recent hacks that America and some of its largest businesses and government agencies have suffered over the past year to realize that cybersecurity is also a battlefront. Bombs are important, but we saw this year what kind of damage not only germs can cause but also hacks,” said Parker.
Lastly, CUFI will lobby for Congress to pass the Hizballah in Latin America Accountability Act of 2021, introduced in May by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
The bill introduces reporting requirements to track and disrupt Hezbollah’s influence in Latin America, which is a source for funding of the Iran-backed terrorist organization.
This year’s opening plenary will include addresses by Hagee, Dollinger, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Haley recently accompanied Hagee on a trip to Israel and was shown the damage caused by the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel.
The summit will also take time to honor the late Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, former rabbi at Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio and a close friend of Hagee, who died earlier this year.
The next day will run from morning to evening and will be open to attendees only. There will be a number of panel discussions, including with state legislators from around the country, briefings from CUFI affiliated organizations, legislative reports, briefings from the Israeli Defense Forces, discussions about Iran with various think-tank experts and speeches by Jewish communal leaders.
The day will conclude with an address from conservative talk-radio host Dennis Prager.
Monday will also include panels from CUFI’s Israel Collective, an initiative focused on younger generations, whose support of Israel, even among evangelicals, has recently been questioned through polls that indicated lessening pro-Israel views.
Ari Morgenstern, senior director of policy and communications, said he was not concerned with the poll results and questions their accuracy.
“We’re actually on the ground with 10 million members. We’ve not seen any indications that these polls are worth changing our efforts,” said Morgenstern. We’ve been engaging… with Gen Z and millennials alike for years, and we’ve been doing it to great success.”