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Protesting a Christian Zionist Conference Was Our Stand Against White Supremacy

By Tarek Abuata and Emmaia Gelman  7.24.2019

As Trump proposes the deportation of four U.S. congresswomen who dare to speak against white nationalism, he has placed Israel at the center of his reasoning. Israel, he says, “feels abandoned” because the four have challenged concentration camps, the outsized influence of lobbying dollars, and Trump’s vision of a white plutocracy. That is telling. For Trump, Israel is a model: a state whose borders are closed to people of particular races and political beliefs, a state that bends the world to its military and economic gravity, a state that projects superiority—let’s be honest, racial superiority—as a hub for technology and capital.

Challenging Israel is essential to challenging white nationalism, because—as Trump has made clear in recent weeks—the two are working hand in hand. Last week, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) held its annual summit in Washington D.C., featuring Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Pastor John Hagee. Hagee is the antisemitic pastor who said that God sent Hitler to bring the about end times. If Hagee sounds like a fringe lunatic, consider that he was also Trump’s choice to dedicate the U.S. embassy when it moved to Jerusalem. Hagee is a dangerous zealot who welcomes atrocities because he believes they serve his religious aims. Perversely, he is embraced by right-wing, pro-Israel Jews as an ally in expanding Israeli dominion.

We disrupted the CUFI summit, along with about 150 advocates organized by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups. As Pence was speaking, ongoing waves of protesters denounced the use of Christianity as cover for racial violence, and each was dragged out by security. Why did we do it? Given the near absence of press coverage of CUFI’s work, one might assume that CUFI is a marginal group whose leader has just wangled a place on Trump’s dais. (Some White House staff initially claimed as much.) It is not. CUFI claims 7 million members. It is a culmination of earlier versions of the religious right under a more overtly extreme ideology than it previously dared—for instance, its Washington office is run by Gary Bauer of Focus on the Family and Family Research Council.

In short, CUFI is a major American political institution. It commands voters driven by Hagee’s theology and the newly prevalent politics that makes alliances between Jewish pro-Israel and white nationalist leaders. CUFI produces supportand dollars—not only for Israel, but for U.S. policies in the same vein: The crowd cheered when Pence described U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents as humanitarians. Pence and Netanyahu appeared at CUFI’s summit not only because they support Hagee, but because Hagee is one of their influential supporters.

CUFI matters because it is Trump’s and Netanyahu’s end run around democracy. Palestinian calls to recognize that Israel’s “democratic rights” are conditional on one’s race have reached a critical mass of support in U.S. politics. Polling finds Americans increasingly supportive of the Palestinians, and increasingly less interested in propping up the Israeli state. The shift is even more pronounced among American Jews: Jewish youth stage a near-constant stream of protests against Zionist organizations and their right-wing megadonors.

The Israeli government has long been insulated from opposition. In large part, U.S. aid to Israel has covered losses generated by boycott and divestment tactics as well as the vast expense of keeping 3.7 million Palestinians under a brutal military closure. As Ilhan Omar noted, “Congress’ support for Israel has been stronger than voters’ support because of the strength of lobby groups like AIPAC.” But even those forces cannot insulate against the growing recognition that Israel is an apartheid state.

Gone unchallenged, CUFI can keep the Israeli government from being called to account. A grassroots political force that has no regard for human rights or democracy, that espouses racism as God’s plan, and that views a repressive state as a means to a religious end is an electoral weapon. Like other projects of empire carried out under the banner of religion, CUFI provides a religious rationale for racial violence that is sanctioned or directly carried out by state armed forces. It also permits Trump and Netanyahu to evade the democratic efforts of American constituencies. Human rights activists have spent years exposing the falsehood that Israel is a liberal egalitarian state. Jewish activists have spent years challenging the falsehood that Israel “represents” Jews and that it is necessary for Jewish security. CUFI deftly moves the goal posts: No longer is support for Israel a liberal project in the service of fighting antisemitism. It is a Christian project in which democracy is of no concern.

We protested CUFI not only because we want to stop them, but also because this 7 million–member, anti-democratic organization flies under the radar. In fact, analysts who watch the religious right have been warning about the dangerous merger of white nationalism, church, and state that Christian Zionism represents. Just as we thought Trump was too crazy to bother with, we have let CUFI slide. That is a mistake with deadly consequences.

Tarek Abuata is a Palestinian-American and the executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA). Emmaia Gelman is a Jewish, queer racial justice organizer and member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in New York City.