Pastor John Hagee speaks at the annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit in Washington on July 17, 2023. Credit: CUFI.
by Mike Wagenheim
(JNS) — This afternoon, 1,200 attendees of this year’s Christians United for Israel Summit will trek from their hotel in Arlington, Va., down the highway to the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
It’s an annual pilgrimage of sorts, as CUFI meets with a majority of Congress members in both chambers to push for the organization’s legislative priorities.
This year, CUFI announced it will lobby in support of three pieces of legislation during the summit. The Countering Hate Against Israel (CHAI) by Federal Contractors Act (H.R. 4564), the Fiscal Year 2023 House and Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Bills and the Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum (SHIP) Act (H.R. 3774/S. 1829).
Target number one is the CHAI Act. The name is by design; chai means “life” in Hebrew. And by coincidence, this is CUFI’s 18th summit, equal to the numerical value of the Hebrew word.
The bill itself, introduced last week, is a federal-level anti-BDS bill. Though 37 states have either passed anti-BDS legislation or instituted executive orders to that effect, there is no national bill of this kind on the books.
“It’s saying if you want to do business with the American government, you have to not boycott the nation of Israel for the duration of the term of that contract. It’s not an unreasonable request,” Sandra Hagee Parker, chairwoman of the board for the CUFI Action Fund, told JNS.
Parker points to the change of strategic positioning by companies like Airbnb and Unilever, who were threatened with divestment and penalties by various states for actions seen as a boycott of Israel-controlled territory before reversing course or resolving the issue to the satisfaction of those states.
A number of recent federal court decisions have kept in place anti-BDS laws, which anti-Israel activists attempted to get struck down on constitutional grounds.
“These anti-BDS measures at the state level are proven. They’ve already been tried in courts, we’ve reached a critical mass in the United States,” said Parker. “So it’s time for the federal government to follow suit. In the past, many members on both sides of the aisle have said they are against boycott, divest and sanctions. And we hope that the passage of time hasn’t allowed that opinion to change.”
The SHIP Act is meant to rectify gaping loopholes in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the JCPOA or Iran nuclear accord, which allows the Islamic Republic access to sell its oil at an estimated 1 million to 1.2 million barrels a day, bringing in some $20 billion to $30 billion annually.
The SHIP Act would increase primary and secondary sanctions on those actors assisting Iran in evading sanctions on the books.
“The reason why Iran is accepting sanctions in exchange for pursuing its nuclear program is because they have access to other streams of income, like illicit oil sales,” Parker told JNS. “We would love to wipe the JCPOA off the table and reinstitute crippling and meaningful sanctions to Iran to bring them financially to their knees, and isolate them the way they try to isolate Israel, as opposed to pandering to our number one enemy.”
Parker said it is “laughable” and a “shame” that there is an existing political division on the issue of Iran and the nuclear accord.
“They are still the number one state sponsor of terrorism. The JCPOA notwithstanding, Iran should not have unfettered access to be able to sell their oil,” she said.
On top of the political divide, there is also the question of whether Congress members, who seem to deal with or are questioned about Israel-related issues on a frequent basis, may grow fatigued on the topic.
Parker said that is of no concern to CUFI. “Maybe you’ll pass legislation we want just to get us to go away. That works, too,” she said bluntly.
She told JNS that Israel is not a political issue for Christians, but rather a biblical one, and therefore one of faith and one which, by definition, they will never grow tired of pushing for.
“We’re going to knock on the doors until our knuckles bleed. Christians have no fear of people tiring of the message,” she said, pointing to the biblical commands to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to bless Israel and to bless the Jews. “We’re not here to saber rattle. We’re not here to just speak loudly. We are here to actually do things to help the Israel-American relationship remain strong. This is an element of our faith.”
Three declared Republican presidential candidates — Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence — spoke at the CUFI Summit on Monday, underscoring that the 2024 campaign is well underway.
But Parker said the divisiveness, and oftentimes the congressional inaction that comes in the months ahead of an election, won’t deter CUFI from pushing its agenda.
“Our strategy has never changed, regardless of who is in the White House or who’s in the Knesset. And I don’t think that presidential election years really have anything to do with it,” she said. “I think that what matters is trying to create a spirit of unity around something that should not be divisive. And there was a time in American politics when both sides of the aisle, regardless of political party, could coalesce around the Israel issue. That it has turned into a partisan issue is a tragedy.”