CUFI and the Ugly Face of Hagel’s Opposition

by James M. WallChip Somodeville:Getty Images

This nation’s foreign policy is, for this weekend at least, in the pious hands of John Hagee, a  Christian fundamentalist preacher from Texas.

To be sure, Hagee is not the only policy-shaker whose minions are roaming the hallowed halls of the nation’s capitol. But he is certainly the most conspicuous and overt religionist participating in the US senate battle over President Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, former Senator Chuck Hagel.

Hagee created Christians United  for Israel (CUFI) in February, 2006. Seven years later (a divine period which in biblical years led to the release of slaves), CUFI is buying television ads in four states, each of which has a Democratic senator who could be vulnerable to defeat in 2014.

That reads more like the creation of, rather than the release of, slaves, but then, divine commands may more often than not, be in the minds and hearts of the divine command transmitters.

At any rate, it is not seven years, but six years (the term of office for a US senator), which John Hagee assumes is on the minds of four Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2014. The states and the senators are Arkansas (Mark Pryor), Louisiana (Mary Landrieu), Colorado (Mark Udall) and North Carolina (Kay Hagan).

The goal of CUFI’s ads running in those states, and the strong Christian fundamentalist religious pressure behind them, is quite simple: Threaten, intimidate and warn these four Democrats that they could pay a price for voting in favor of Hagel.

And, it must also be noted, the ads let other senators know CUFI is watching.

JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People, describes the Washington political/religious scene this week:

CUFI’s affiliated Action Fund also has rallied hundreds of Christian pastors and leaders to Washington this week to lobby against the former Nebraska senator’s bid to succeed Leon Panetta.

And on Tuesday, as the pastors were swarming Senate offices, CUFI published four ads in states where Democratic senators are thought to be vulnerable in 2014: Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado and North Carolina.

“We pray you vote against confirming Senator Hagel,” said the ads, addressed to each state’s senators.

CUFI is not targeting Republican senators with prayers and threats. No need, prayers and threats have long since done their work.

No CUFI ads ran in Texas, for example, a state already safely in CUFI’s clutches. Indeed, the Lone Star state, which has sent two Bushes to the White House, has two Republican senators now leading the vitriolic political/religious charge against Hagel.

Sen. John Cornyn, the senior Texas senator, was the first senator to come out against Hagel’s nomination. He did so, he acknowledged, at John Hagee’s behest during a meeting this Monday.

Cornyn set the tone for the Hagel hearing with his egregious declaration, “I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who suggests we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran.”

The second Texas senator, Ted Cruz, now beginning his first term, is shown in the picture above, talking to Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, right (with Hagel behind them). During Thursday’s hearings, Cruz fired a series of prosecutorial questions at Hagel in the eight hours the nominee endured in his grilling before the committee.

Some Democrats on the Armed Services committee were supportive of Hagel, but they were careful not to give any hint that they had any doubts about their love and devotion to Israel.

They are, after all, fully aware of the leitmotif (an anglicization of the German Leitmotiv, literally meaning “leading motif”, or perhaps more accurately, “guiding motif) constantly ringing in their political ears back home through media, donors, voters and alas, religious groups from mainline Protestants to the right wing fundamentalist CUFI crowd.

From the Republican side in the Senate committee hearings, there was only polite deference displayed for Hagel’s Vietnam military and senate service.  Instead, adopting the style of another prosecutorial senator, Arizona’s Republican Senator John McCain, Cruz demanded yes or no answers, or the order of “do you or do you not stand behind this quote from 1999 (or 2002, or whenever)”.

It was, over all, an ugly scene in the nation’s capitol as Republican senators bolstered their Israeli bona fides to demonstrate just how much they love the Zionist program that occupies a Palestinian population and elevates Israel above criticism or blame.

If there has been any senatorial concern that Israel became the first country to boycott a UN Human Rights Council review of its rights situation this week, it did not surface in any format I could locate.

During the Hagel hearings, Republicans focused exclusively on loving Israel as they leveled blistering attacks on a former senate colleague,  forcing him to explain, clarify and at times, appear to reverse statements made over the past decade. The senators tried to get him to give yes or no questions to some of the more complex issues this nation will confront during his term as defense secretary.

In spite of these highly personal attacks, Hagel remained cool, maintaining his composure to such a degree that, if you are pulling for him, he succeeded in making his attackers look both nasty and petty.

In preparation for the hearings, Hagel did his political homework. He bolstered his support among pro-Israel Democratic senators. Once he convinced Chuck Schumer of New York, that he (Hagel) was not anti-Israel, he passed the Schumer litmus test.

Here is JTA’s reading of the groundwork Hagel and his White House counselors, laid prior to the hearings:

In his efforts to tamp down the pro-Israel opposition to his nomination, Hagel has won support from some of the leading Jewish pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate: Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, as well as Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

The Vietnam War hero also has the support of liberal Jewish groups, including Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum and J Street. On Wednesday, J Street was set to join Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a veteran and a member of the Armed Services Committee, on a conference call backing Hagel.

Hagel also has met with leaders of centrist pro-Israel groups, several of which had expressed concerns about his candidacy, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The groups described the meeting as “an important opportunity for a serious and thorough discussion.”

In his fight against Hagel, John Hagee’s CUFI had the support of co-religionist groups in the Jewish community, none of which, however, to my knowledge, ran ads “praying” for senatorial votes

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) did contribute a web video which the JTA describes as “featuring Democrats and Jewish organizational leaders expressing concern about Hagel.

“Expressing concern” is Zionist polite parlor talk for “we don’t like you or what you stand for”.

No prayer talk either from the Emergency Committee for Israel which ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, January 15, joining the Zionist Organization of America in opposing Hagel.

And of course, it would not be a pro-Israel alley fight without the presence of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, described by JTA as “one of the GOP’s most generous donors and an RJC board member”. Adelson made his pitch directly by calling senators who appreciate his fondness for Israel as well as his generous deep pockets.

Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, went all down-home-like on us with his comment, “We’ve made a strategic decision to gin up as much support among our leaders to reach out to the folks.”

As was to be expected, the progressive political left was harshly critical of Hagel’s testimony.  Philip Weiss, major domo of Mondoweiss, reacted to the Thursday hearings:

The first few hours of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing have been sickening. I thought he was named to be United States Secretary of Defense, not Israel’s defense. The most urgent questions were about Israel, and many came from liberal Democrats insisting that Hagel is pledged to going to war against Iran if it acquires a nuclear weapon.

Hagel was suitably craven. “I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel… I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel… Ive never voted against Israel in my career… I’ve been to Israel many times,” he told Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

David Weigel writing for Slate, saw something bogus in the questions thrown at Hagel by Senator Ted Cruz, who came to the hearings with

three—count ’em—visual aids to his interrogation of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. He played two clips from Hagel’s interviews on Arab-language media, attempting to prove that Hagel agreed with callers who accused Israel of “war crimes” and the United States of “bullying,” because he quickly agreed with the questions and moved on. The third aid was a chart blowing up a July 31, 2006 quote from Hagel, during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah.

“In a speech on the floor of the Senate you referred to Israel’s military campaign against the terrorist group Hezbollah as a, quote, ‘sickening slaughter,'” said Cruz. “Do you think it’s right that Israel was committing, quote, a ‘sickening slaughter,’ as you said on the floor of the Senate?”

As with so much else today, Hagel was caught short, and tried to explain why “slaughter” might occur if “war crimes” didn’t. It was another hit he should have seen coming; the Weekly Standard, in a morning cheat sheet of Hagel quotes, reported that Hagel “accused Israel of carrying out a ‘sickening slaughter’ in Lebanon.”

But it’s misleading. Hagel’s full speech is available on C-SPAN.

The larger context of the quote, Weigel reports, is here:

“How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance America’s image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?

The sickening slaughter on both sides must end, and it must end now.”

The final vote may come Monday. In spite of the hostile hearings, it still appears Hagel will win confirmation. That vote will end yet another political episode when the ambiguity of democracy is put on full display.

It is not always pretty; at times it is downright ugly. But it is what we get when flawed political leaders struggle to govern.

               The picture above is by Chip Somodeville/Getty Images, from Slate.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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20 Responses to CUFI and the Ugly Face of Hagel’s Opposition

  1. Sam Kahali says:

    Unfortunately ,Hagel confirmed or not will be extremely difficult to change the course of the Israeli-Jewish powerful lobey and their influence of deep pockets and highly unlikely for law makers,senators and congress to make serious changes in American foreign policy—too much corruption.
    Thank you again James for exposing the unexposed .We need that.

  2. That Chuck Hagel is viciously attacked in this manner in behalf of Israel by his former colleagues in the Senate, after former Shin Bet directors have so recently publicly compared Israel’s occupation of Palestine with Nazi Germany’s occupation of European countries during WWII, is something that ought to give every American pause. I cannot recall having witnessed a more sickening spectacle than Hagel’s questioning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  3. Patricia need to get says:

    Hopefully Hagel will be approved.
    Israel is a country founded upon criminal actions of pushing people from their land without any compensation. No treaty had been signed when the zionists came with weapons and violence to take away the land of a totally unarmed people. That must be why the Israeli leaders are always worried about their security– they know deep-down they have used criminal means to achieve the land of Israel. It is time they are put in their place , time that their desire to be the strongest country (thanks in large part to U.S.A. taxpayers) and call the shots in the middle East be seen for what it is. They still feel deep down, their original crime. As for Iran, I don’t think it has ever threatened us, even though we destroyed its elected democracy and reinstalled the Shah, and now cripple it with sanctions.
    The Iranians have good reason to hate us. Why is no one complaining of Israel’s 200 atomic bombs?, Is that not a reason to think Israel is a danger, the biggest terrorist in the ME,?. The congress, most of whose members are paid off by AIPAC, needs to start thinking of how much they lack wisdom and fairness in representing their constituents, when they put Israel’s ambition first, before the welfare of the people they represent.

  4. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Jim, Thank you for an absolutely brilliant review of the Hagel “Trial”. .
    This was the Inquisition re-lived, not in the Iberian Peninsula, but in Israel’s “second capital”, Washington, D.C.

    It was the ugly poisonous trial of an American patriot, not because he was perceived to wrong the United States of America, or because he was anti-Israel, but rather because he was not willing to kneel and declare his total devotion to “BAAL Israel” right-or-wrong, Israel’s tyrannical occupation, Israeli Apartheid regime, Israeli expansionism, and Israel’s monopoly of the sole nuclear arsenal in the Middle East.

    They have disected him behind the scenes, before the trial evn began, and made him sign-on to every conceivable scenario ensuring Israel’s continued hegemony and disastrous occupation of Palestine. They seemed to have been injected with extra venom that they have never shown before, which makes one wonder about the extent of bribery propelled by the likes of Sheldon Adelson, the “Zionist Taliban”, and “Hoodlum Pharisees”.

    I have never seen American representatives stoop so low as I have in watching this shameful hate-filled spectacle, as the daggers were swung mercilessly at a steadfast American patriot.

    For those who continue to deny who runs American foreign policy in the Middle East, this case is a most persuasive demonstration of how the Israel Lobby manipulates the system.

  5. It should be noted that the executive director of Christians United for Israel is even less of a “Christian” than is John Hagee, who worships not Christ but the State of Israel. Not only is David Brog Jewish but he is a cousin of Ehud Barak. Barak reportedly catches up with Brog whenever he’s in Washington. No doubt it is from these Brog family reunions that CUFI gets much if not all of its “divine” inspiration!

  6. Wow: the JTA promotes AIPAC as a “centrist pro-Israel group.” Wow.

    Jim, it’s very difficult to peruse this excellent overview and not emerge terminally depressed. These venal “senators” and the “Christian” Hagee and his ilk don’t represent the USA I’d like to be proud of. They represent the ugly face of political/militant Zionism.

  7. Noushin says:

    According to Chuck Todd of NBC News, the number of times Afghanistan was brought up at the Hagel hearings: 38, the number of times Israel was brought up: 178. This shows the focus the senate would like for the Pentagon.

  8. Fred says:

    If progressive Christians remain passive and don’t work the halls of Congress the way Christian Zionists and Jews do, then we have only owrselves to blame for America’s Israel First policies.

    Christian Zionists and Jews will always get Congress to do what they want, if we don’t play hardball politics the way they do. Can’t people see this after all these years? Why don’t progressive Christians do this?

  9. Excellent (if infuriating) post Jim. That these elected Members of the U.S. Congress (not Knesset) have the audacity to call themselves patriots while smearing the reputation of a man who bled for his country and then simply affirmed that he was a senator of that country (not Israel), is grotesque. This is not about so-called “dual loyalty”, that would suggest some parity in where their commitment lies. In this case their commitment lies in the donors lining their pockets and the organizations threatening their hold on public office.

  10. Pauline Coffman says:

    When Hagel was asked to name one member of Congress or the Senate that had been influenced by “the Jewish lobby” he might have replied, “You all are. Your focus today proves that.” Thanks, Jim.

  11. Robert Assaly says:

    Grown men and women shamelessly making a spectacle of themselves must have their Zionist handlers laughing at them. They ensure Mark Twain’s withering observation, “the best Congress money can buy,” is timeless.

    Anyone for campaign financing and election reform?

  12. Patricia says:

    Progressive Christians need to lean on their ministers, have open discussions in their congregation about the poison represented by “false prophets” such a Hagee. Then drive the Zionists out of our government,

  13. Kyle Holberg says:

    Thanks James. As always, I appreciate your insights. If nothing else, yesterday’s inquisition was just another opportunity for a few of the committee members to curry favor with the Israeli lobby. At times, the whole “show” seemed more designed to be about them and their unswerving support for Israel than about Hagel. What a shameful display!

  14. Elizabeth Mayfield says:

    I lament that progressive churches in the US seem unable to stand up to Zionism and to false prophets like Hagee. It seems that progressive churches do not have the funders like Sheldon Adelson to give them the courage to speak truth to power. Or are the progressive churches nothing more than social clubs and Hagee a power able to defeat Judeo-Christian justice and morality because he doesn’t care whether we, the people, like him or not? When such a man gains as much political and religious power as this, we have to questions ourselves. Is this what our indifference to our spiritual upbringings has wrought? Will our government have the courage to stand up and say, “ours is the estate of politics; yours is religion and our constitution spoke clearly about not allowing religion to bias our governing. Go, Hagee, and do no more harm?” Putting Israel first is to make it last and will harm not only those who despair of Zionist tactics, but those who promote them. Are we wise enough to support the candidate, Hagel, who has spoken truth and merits our support of all those who care about America and people of the world.

  15. C. Jones says:

    In answer to whom the “Jewish Lobby” has influenced, the first Senator to come to my mind is Lindsay Graham along with Inhofe, Gillebrand, McCain, Cruz and too many others to name.

  16. Mary Myers says:

    As I recall, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Hagel to name one member of the Senate who was “intimidated” by the Israel Lobby instead of “influenced.” Hagel had to suck it up and say he didn’t have anyone in mind. He could have said “just about everyone in the room,” but that would have cost him enough votes to lose the confirmation.

  17. Elizabeth Mayfield says:

    Hagel and Hagee, tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum named men, give us qualms. Will Hagel advance America or be detrimental to a country that is not ours? Is Israel’s so-called sanctity and security more at issue and more worthy than the care and keeping of the American people? Will the experience and wisdom of the warrior we call upon to protect us be denied by the false prophecy of the other? I lament that such false prophecy has gone this far. I lament that progressive churches in the US seem unable to stand up to Christian Zionism and to those who profit from it. Evidently, progressive churches do not have the funders like Sheldon Adelson to give them the courage to tell our government what to do. Are the progressive churches nothing more than social clubs and Hagee’s gang a power able to defeat Judeo-Christian justice and morality? Occupation, war, fear and hatred are not subjects that “popular” church people want to confront. But, when such a man as Hagee gains political and religious power to the extent that he can become the Pontius Pilate of the US, he shows us up by making clear what our indifference to our spiritual upbringings has wrought? Will our representatives stand up and say to him, “ours is the estate of politics; yours is not and our constitution spoke clearly about governance without religious bias.” Putting Israel first is to make it last and will harm not only those who despair of Zionist tactics, but those who promote them. Are we wise enough to support the candidate who has spoken truth and merits the support of all those who care about our country, while espousing justice for people everywhere, none more special in the eyes of God than the other? I hope so.

  18. Elizabeth and Mary, among all the good comments responding to Jim’s superb reporting, your expressed thoughts and provocative questions stand out to me. At the risk of offending some or many on this comment list, I’m pasting a quotation by an 80-years-plus friend (I’ll not name him) who writes what’s in his mind. This quotation is, as it happens, in relation to John Pilger’s just-released analysis of the Mali-Algeria-North Africa conundrum: “Once again, religious leaders are quiet since they are ‘paid off’ by being tax free; hence, they know and accept that their role is to placate the masses.”

    We must return “Jesus Christ” to “Christianity,” denouncing the money changers and hypocrites, loudly proclaiming justice and equality and love, guiding women and men of good will on earth to be courageous and steadfast in our discipleship. The pulpit — many pulpits — is the right place to start. It takes a real leap of faith to be optimistic.

  19. Fred says:

    Why is it that Jews and Christian zionists, who also get tax breaks, have no qualms or inhibitions in getting political and giving money to Israel Firsters in Congress, while progressive Christians stay out of politics and are so timid about getting involved politically? Those groups have Congress in their pocket, while we are left powerless in our own government?

  20. Elizabeth Mayfield says:

    Hi, Fred,

    We main stream “Christians”, and that’s all I can speak about, have no power because we choose to have none. We don’t want to spend money on something that does’t seem to affect our immediate comfort nor are we passionate about not murdering and stealing from people in the “Holy Land” while the Zionists go for it big time. 1.Zionists want the land for themselves no matter the cost to others. 2. They’re willing to pay for it through influence peddling that isn’t as expensive as paying for what they take (or so they assume). 3.Churches in America have cozied up to the government for tax deductions, etc. have failed to provide the moral guidance their estate was meant to give. Pastors fear they will be fired if they speak out on this issue and all face being labeled as anti-Semitic for even the slightest word of sympathy for the oppressed (and some are fired for this). 4. Zionists have no qualms about using religion to get what they want and bask in the idea that The Savior will only return when all the Jews get to Israel as one.

    Occupation is always ugly as are the other sins we so freely commit. It’s a sad commentary and I think we’re the delusional ones. No willingness to use money to help others, really help others, and no real passion equals impotence.

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