By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
John Hagee has stayed out of the headlines since spring 2008, when then presidential candidate John McCain rejected his earlier endorsement after the Dallas-based evangelist was accused of making anti-Catholic statements and other remarks that were insensitive toward Jews.
More than a year later, Hagee's group, Christians United for Israel, is still working to repair its image. The nation's primary Christian Zionist organization, it has since launched a Catholic outreach program. The group's representatives are sitting down with journalists to make the case that Hagee's views were distorted during last year's presidential campaign and that Christians United for Israel deserves a second look.
Coinciding with the group's 4th annual Washington, D.C., summit, which opens today in Washington (speakers include House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes), Hagee agreed to answer some questions via E-mail, on issues ranging from the lasting fallout from the McCain endorsement flap to President Obama's Israel policy. Here's the full transcript:
You founded Christians United for Israel three and a half years ago. What have you accomplished so far through the group? What are its big goals for the coming year?
Building a national grass-roots movement is a long-term project. It requires a lot of work and does not always garner headlines. But I am extremely pleased with our progress. We have divided America into 14 regions and we now have regional directors in place across the country. We have state directors in over 45 states. We have city directors in over 100 cities.
Since our founding, we have held over 100 Nights to Honor Israel in cities across America. We have started a new event—called Standing with Israel rallies—and have held over 60 of these in the past half year. And, this week, we will be hosting our 4th annual Washington, D.C., summit during which over 4,000 Christians from every state in the Union will converge on Washington, D.C., to speak up and stand up for Israel.
Perhaps most importantly of all, we are educating the next generation of Christians to stand with Israel. Our CUFI on Campus program has reached thousands of students on over 200 college campuses. This summer, we are bringing a group of 40 campus leaders to study the Holocaust in Poland and then proceed to Israel. These students will become community leaders who are deeply committed to standing with Israel.
President Obama has said the U.S. bond with Israel is "unbreakable," but he has attracted criticism from some Jewish quarters for calling on the Jewish state to cease settlements in the West Bank. How would you assess Obama's Israel policy so far?
I have some concerns about President Obama's approach to peacemaking. He may believe that by securing concessions from Israel he will get leverage with which to win reciprocal concessions from the Arabs down the road. Yet I do not believe that the history of Arab-Israeli peacemaking to date supports this view.
Israel has already made many painful concessions for peace. In the 1990s Israel withdrew from all of the major Arab population centers in the West Bank. In 2000, Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Unfortunately, the response to these concessions has been less than encouraging. In each case, terrorism against Israel only increased.
Given Israel's track record of taking risks for peace, it seems to me that we should defer to Israel's democratically elected leaders when it comes to considering further concessions. Peace will come only when Israel's neighbors are ready to recognize Israel and renounce terror—in both word and deed.
Do you worry that CUFI is perceived as a right-wing or partisan group, even if you want to make support for Israel a bipartisan issue? If so, are you taking steps to change that image?
There are many who try to marginalize us by portraying us as right-wing partisans. But this is very far from the truth. Our membership is broad and diverse. We are a big tent for Christians who support certain fundamental propositions about Israel, namely that Israel has a right to exist and a right to defend herself from attack like any other nation.
We are always working to broaden our base. We are reaching out to Catholics and the Protestant denominations. We are reaching out to Hispanic and African-American churches. We are reaching out to students on campuses across the country. All Christian supporters of Israel are welcome under our big tent.
It's been a little over a year since the John McCain endorsement episode ended. Has there been lasting fallout for you and/or for CUFI from that experience?
No, I think the media frenzy ended along with the campaign. There may still be some people who believe some of the lies that were told about me during the campaign. But I've come to believe that those who readily accepted these smears were probably not my friends to begin with.
As for CUFI, we have continued to grow through it all. CUFI has continued to stand with Israel. Nothing has diverted us from our mission. Most fair observers have always recognized that while I am the founder and the chairman of CUFI, this group is far larger than any one man.
CUFI has recently stepped up outreach to Catholics. What precipitated that , and how is the effort going so far? What are your goals for that outreach?
Yes, we are reaching out to Catholics. These efforts started last year, during the presidential campaign, when Bill Donahue of the Catholic League claimed that I had slighted the Catholic Church while teaching from the Book of Revelation. He was mistaken on this point. But he and I handled this disagreement the way that Christians should. We met. We had fellowship. We learned from one another. A few months after the controversy, he came to our Washington, D.C., Summit as my guest. When I recognized him during my keynote address, he received a rousing ovation from our CUFI audience. I consider him a friend.
Bill and I decided that we should turn our personal reconciliation into a broader reconciliation. We decided to try to bring Catholics and Protestants together on behalf of Israel. Some of Israel's best friends and strongest defenders are devout Catholics. They should be a part of this movement.