Courage, combating antisemitism take center stage at CUFI’s ‘chai’ national summit

Pastor John Hagee speaks at the annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit in Washington on July 17, 2023. Credit: CUFI.

by Melissa Langsam Braunstein

(JNS) — More than 1,200 people gathered on July 17 in Arlington, Va., for the annual Christians United for Israel Washington Summit. It was the event’s 18th — or chai — iteration, gathering some of the more than 10 million members of the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization.

Throughout the day, political, scholarly, advocacy and religious speakers addressed various topics, many centered on the themes of courage and fighting antisemitism.

“God’s love for the Jewish people will be here forever,” Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of CUFI, told the audience. “What CUFI does, or does not do, to bless Israel will be remembered forever.”

Hagee, 83, founder and senior pastor of the 22,000-strong Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, cited leadership lessons from King David to George Washington to Teddy Roosevelt. He also urged courage.

“When you try to do the right thing in the right way, God will be with you,” he said.

The pastor underscored that one of those “right” things to do is to combat antisemitism, which he called “one of America’s greatest sins.”

“Let’s attack antisemitism wherever we find it. Don’t worry what people say about you. We are not here to please the antisemites or to cooperate with them,” he said. “We are here to please the Almighty and live according to the dictates of God,” including being “defenders of Zion” and comforting Jews.

‘We can force it back under the rocks’

Several speakers drew lessons from the Bible, which they applied to modern times.

Pastor George Morrison, a CUFI board member, and Sandra Parker — Hagee’s daughter and chairwoman of CUFI Action Fund — encouraged being like Nachshon, son of Aminadav, who per the book of Exodus leapt first into the Red Sea.

“Only when he was up to his nose [in water] did the Red Sea part,” Morrison said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, speaks at the annual Christians United for Israel Summit in Washington on July 17, 2023. Credit: CUFI.

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, also referenced ancient Egypt.

Pharaoh modeled “true” antisemitism, he said, noting that the Egyptian ruler enslaved Jews, whom he assumed would collaborate with the country’s enemies, should Egypt be attacked, even though “he doesn’t accuse Jews of doing anything wrong,” he said.

Hoenlein said that antisemitism, which he considers an “antiseptic” term compared to “Jew-hatred,” has no cure, but “we can force it back under the rocks.”

In the CUFI program, Hoenlein’s affiliation with the Conference of Presidents was listed, and Jewish Insider reported that he was harsher in his criticism of the White House strategy on antisemitism than the group has been.

In an interview with JNS, he spoke in his personal capacity rather than on behalf of the Conference of Presidents. He said that the U.S. Department of Education needs to do a lot more to protect Jews on the nation’s college campuses.

“No Jewish student or faculty should feel threatened,” he said. “Get alumni, donors, administrators, members of boards to stand up and say, ‘This is not tolerable’.”

The Jewish community is winning battles but losing the war on antisemitism, he told JNS. “We’re spending into the nine figures to fight antisemitism. We need a more coordinated and collaborative approach.”

‘Federal antisemitism standards in a vulnerable position’

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, told attendees that more than half of U.S. states have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on antisemitism in some form.

Marcus said it’s helpful that the Biden administration produced a national strategy to combat antisemitism but at the same time noted that the administration weakened the plan by supporting a “more lenient” definition of antisemitism in addition to IHRA.

The administration has delayed issuing regulations for the 2019 Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism, which “reaffirms that Title VI protects Jews from antisemitic harassment or other discrimination if it is based on their race, color, or national origin,” Marcus told JNS.

“It leaves federal antisemitism standards in a vulnerable position,” he said. “People should reach out to the administration, directly or through their members of Congress.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican candidate for president, spoke about the movement to boycott Israel.

“You’re free as a person to have whatever views on foreign policy you want, but when you focus all of your ire against the only Jewish state — not the (Chinese Communist Party) or other rogue regimes — that’s antisemitism, and that is wrong,” he said.

When Airbnb enacted a policy that discriminated against Jews in Judea and Samaria, Florida imposed sanctions on the company, DeSantis told attendees.

“Lo and behold, they reversed their policy,”  he said.

Florida also acted against Unilever, when its subsidiary Ben and Jerry’s announced it would no longer operate “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” added DeSantis. And most recently, the state has opened an investigation into the investment giant Morningstar over alleged boycotting of Israel in its environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings.

Speakers agreed much work and great challenges loomed, but Hoenlein sees reason for optimism. “God, in his wisdom, sometimes creates what we think are problems but are really opportunities,” he told attendees.