Israel News

Bumpy Road Ahead

‍‍2015-05-14 10:47:54 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu, shown in the Knesset on May 4, managed to form a ruling coalition just 90 minutes before the deadline.  (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown in the Knesset on May 4, managed to form a ruling coalition just 90 minutes before the deadline.
(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

TEL AVIV — Seven weeks after he won re-election, Benjamin Netanyahu finally secured a fourth term as prime minister.

With 90 minutes to go until a midnight deadline to form a governing coalition, Netanyahu concluded an agreement May 6 with the religious, pro-settler Jewish Home party that gives him the narrowest of parliamentary majorities — 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Along with three other factions — the religious Shas and United Torah Judaism and the center-right Kulanu — the five-party Likud-led coalition skews right on diplomacy and defense and, for the first time in at least a decade, includes no parties that support the establishment of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future.

The agreement represents something of a setback for Netanyahu, who called for new elections last year in order to strengthen his grip on a legislature he considered to be ungovernable. In the last government, Netanyahu’s Likud headed a 68-seat majority coalition. In a statement on May 6 announcing the agreement, Netanyahu sought to emphasize the positive.

“Sixty-one is a good number,” Netanyahu said upon announcing the agreement. “Sixty-one-plus is a better number, but it begins with 61 and we will begin. There’s a lot of work ahead of us. I want us to go to work. It should be very successful for us and for the nation of Israel.”

The new coalition is largely in agreement on the question of Palestinian statehood. Having previously voiced support for a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said before the March election that the Palestinians would not get a state on his watch (and then walked back those comments). Jewish Home is ideologically opposed to any withdrawal from the West Bank and strongly supports settlement growth. Kulanu would limit expansion to major settlement blocs but says statehood is not feasible under the current Palestinian leadership. The haredi Orthodox parties have been agnostic on Palestinian statehood in the past, though recent years have seen the haredi settler population swell.

“We are against giving one centi-meter of land to the Arabs, both from moral grounds and security grounds,” Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home’s leader, said in a Feb. 24 speech. “The biggest mistake is to copy and paste what happened in Gaza in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

Despite agreement on that point, the new coalition is split on other issues, including economic policy and religious affairs, which could pose a challenge as Netanyahu works to keep his 61 lawmakers in line.

“Anyone who’s worried about governance in Israel and political stability should be worried about a government of 61 seats,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “It’s a government that will find it hard to instigate much-needed economic reform and even to deal with more mundane affairs of state like passing a budget without being extorted by backbenchers in the coalition.”

But Hebrew University political science professor Gideon Rahat said the small coalition may make the government more stable, as partners will avoid conflicts that could break up the government.

“In wide coalitions there are ideological differences and people in the coalition think you can disagree and the coalition won’t fall,” he said. “In a small coalitions they think that if you make small waves, the whole business can collapse.”

Likud, with 30 seats, will control the foreign and defense ministries in the next government, along with the corresponding Knesset committees. Economic policy will be run by the 10-seat Kulanu, founded last year by ex-Likudnik Moshe Kahlon, who will serve as finance minister.

“The Israeli market needs reforms, and we in the Kulanu party, together with the Likud party, the prime minister, and the ministers, will lead it,” Kahlon wrote on Facebook last week after signing an agreement with Likud. “As we promised, in the next government we will advance reforms in housing, in banking, and we will work to narrow gaps in Israeli society.”

Jewish Home, with eight seats, received the education and justice portfolios, while the seven-seat Sephardi haredi Orthodox Shas party will run the Religious Affairs Ministry. The Ashkenazi haredi United Torah Judaism, with six seats, will not appoint any ministers out of an ideological opposition to Zionism, though it will have several deputy ministers.

Netanyahu had a hard time just getting to 61. According to Israeli reports of the secretive coalition talks, Likud’s prospective partners sparred with each other on policy and demanded top ministries.

“If he thinks he can dangle this or that [ministerial] portfolio, he’s making a big mistake.”

The prime minister succeeded by granting significant concessions to his partners. UTJ demanded a rollback of religious reforms passed by the previous government, Shas received key ministries and Kulanu won the power to enact housing and land reforms.

The incoming justice minister will be Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked, 39, who entered Knesset just over two years ago. As minister, Shaked will aim to limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s power to overturn laws. Last year, the court invalidated a law allowing long-term detention of African migrants, one of Shaked’s key issues.

“There’s no situation in the world, as there is in Israel, where judges appoint themselves and invalidate laws,” Shaked wrote on Facebook two weeks ago.

Days before the deadline, coalition talks were rocked by the resignation of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who announced that his nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party would sit in the opposition. Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud were allies as recently as last year, but Liberman said the incoming government would be insufficiently hawkish.

Netanyahu may keep the foreign minister title for himself, holding it open should he persuade the center-left Zionist Union, with 24 seats, to join the coalition. As of last week, Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog said he would lead the Knesset opposition. On Facebook, he called the incoming government “a national failure government.”

“We won’t be a fifth wheel, and don’t intend to save Netanyahu from the holes he’s dug himself into,” Herzog said at a Zionist Union meeting last week. “I won’t be Netanyahu’s corkscrew. And if he thinks he can dangle this or that [ministerial] portfolio, he’s making a big mistake.”

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At Home in the Lab

‍‍2015-04-23 09:30:00 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

BEERSHEVA, Israel — In sync with a worldwide momentum to attract more women to STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — for their study and career choices, Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE) is spearheading a concerted nationwide effort to attract and retain more women into academia in those fields.

The results from a two-year study, begun in 2010 under the direction and urging of Dr. Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, revealed that a greater number of Israeli women than men — approximately 58 percent to 42 percent — hold master’s or Ph.D. degrees. But as academic rank goes up within a university system, that proportion drastically changes, showing that men hold about 85 percent of professor positions.

In order to rectify discrepancies revealed by the findings, a CHE committee recommended making the entire system more responsive to the particular biological needs and social realities of women in the modern-day Jewish state.

One of the greatest obstacles in the academic career path for women, the data showed, was time needed to accommodate for child-rearing and other family obligations. This can affect everything from postdoctoral study-abroad opportunities (a crucial part of a competitive researcher’s curricula vitae) to tenure-track faculty positions, where a woman might “stop out” to have children. But tenure-track professors are under extreme pressure to complete requirements in an allotted time or lose the tenure opportunity. Also according to the study, Israeli female postdoctoral students tend to be older (about 37 years old on average) and are likely to have more children than their academic peers worldwide. The combination of these factors can lead to great challenges for women in academic careers.

Therefore, some of the committee’s recommendations for all higher education institutions include adjusting the “tenure clock” to the “biological clock,” a proactive recruitment policy, representation of women on major academic committees and designated scholarships for women researchers with families.

Less than two years after adoption of the plan, small improvements are starting to take hold. Carmi, a pediatric geneticist who became Israel’s first woman university president in 2006 and is an accomplished researcher in her own right, was the first to adopt the recommendations at her institution.

Carmi said for her, “It’s been a mission for many years” to promote higher-level academic opportunities to women, but she admits success isn’t based solely on the numbers of positions women hold. She’s also committed to the more difficult task to change perceptions and behavior of both men and women, who at times, she asserts, “don’t even realize their biases about women’s roles in academia.”

Above all, her priority is “to empower young women” and “push them out of their comfort zone,” she said, helping female students to understand early in their studies the options open to them for research and  faculty career tracks as well as the support that is available.

Carmi pointed to Ilana Nisky, a senior lecturer in Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, as “one of the first women we helped, sponsoring her postdoc studies abroad.” She added that without the push from the university — the centerpiece of the Negev desert capital that is Beersheva — Nisky may not have continued in a graduate program.

“The idea is to identify those excellent women early on and push them forward,” added the president.

In addition to sponsorship from Ben-Gurion, Nisky also received postdoctoral financial support from the Marc Rich Foundation and the Weizmann Institute of Science National Postdoctoral Award for Advancing Women in Science. She recently returned to Ben-Gurion to head the Biomedical Robotics Lab, where her team is working to improve robotic surgery by studying human motor control.

Robotic surgery allows a doctor, with the use of a computer and handheld controls, to maneuver a mechanical arm equipped with small tools. A robotic arm or combination of arms performs the actual surgery on the patient. This type of procedure — local Baltimore examples include minimally invasive coronary artery bypass surgery performed at Johns Hopkins Medicine — happens about 500,000 times per year worldwide, Nisky said, and her team is working to improve the surgeon’s experience.

What is missing when using a robotic tool is force feedback, Nisky explained, a sensation that is typically perceived through the sense of direct touch. For instance, if you reach to pick up a glass of water, you get the sensation of grasping the glass, sensing its texture and weight. But if you tried to perform that action virtually through use of a computer and a gripper device and viewed the glass of water on a screen, you could see and perform the action, but wouldn’t perceive the sense of smooth glass against your hand or the heft of its weight.

The mission of Nisky’s lab is to better understand “how our brain controls movement to improve [medical] robotic design and training,” she said, and allow a robotic user to interact virtually but still experience a sense of touch. Their findings, she hopes, could also be applied conversely to improve the understanding of neuroscience.

Nisky’s team has just begun their research, employing the use of sophisticated robotic machinery and controls like those used in surgery. Her team modifies the machines both mechanically and through software to enable them to record hand and — eventually — eye movements while a user performs a task, then compiles and processes the data.

Not every procedure can be performed robotically, but, according to Nisky, with improved user controls current procedures might one day be performed more efficiently and the list of approved robotic surgeries could grow. Others potential uses include tele-surgery, now in its early stages (a proof of concept was performed in 2001 in which a surgeon in New York performed procedures on a patient in Strasbourg, France) or for tele-mentoring, where a senior surgeon would guide a novice through specialized training at a distance.

In accordance with the CHE recommendations, BGU has also created formalized internal mentoring programs for young female researchers. Because Dr. Hanna Rapaport understands first hand that it is possible to raise and care for a family, obtain a Ph.D. degree and run a research lab, she is well placed as the mentor liaison for graduate students in the Department of Biotechnology Engineering and strives to “model by example.”

Rapaport supervises four  young female students, who are all married and receive full support from their families, as well as passionate and successful in their research. Though Rapaport fully supports Israel’s nationwide initiatives to attract and retain more women in research and faculty positions, she would prefer it not be necessary.

She acknowledges the strides Carmi has made at BGU and success at other institutions but added, “I believe the way the change should come is by simply hiring more women, and make the effort to support and encourage and recruit more women nationwide,” said Rapaport, and added, that ultimately “it depends upon how much a young woman wants to develop her science career as well as the support that she has from her family. If she has the motivation and support, she can get anywhere.”

Rapaport’s straightforward attitude to empowering women within academics is echoed in her lab work.

“We design peptides,” said Rapaport. “We [construct them] on a computer based on our understanding of principles of natural protein structures.” In the simplest terms, she went on, we “mimic nature, then improve upon it.”

Peptides consist of amino acids linked in a short chain. (A longer chain becomes a protein.) Amino acids, meanwhile, help perform important bodily functions and give cells their structure. Perhaps one of the most relevant properties in relation to Rapaport’s research is that peptides can be essential for wound healing and tissue repair, especially for skin, muscles and bones.

The Idea is to identify those exellent women early on and push them forward.

“We are biotechnology engineers and build on the principles of what the body is already doing to build bones,” said Rapaport. “We can come in and assist nature if there is a large bone defect that the body cannot deal with.”

She cited orthopedic trauma, implants, dentistry and osteoporosis as applications for her bone generation research. For instance, if a patient requires a bone graft or other ortho-pedic surgery, often doctors prefer to harvest bone tissue directly from the patient, an approach that can result in high medical costs, extended time away from work and a longer healing process, Rapaport explained. With approximately $2 million of funding support to date, her team has designed an alternative to that scenario that employs peptides and other biomaterials to assist in bone regeneration and healing.

Through the use of an injectable hydrogel that contains the peptide biomaterials designed by her team, a molecular scaffold is created within bone to encourage the regeneration of tissue.

The hydrogel injection treatment helped bone trauma heal dramatically, in one trial 80 percent faster, said Rapaport, while other projected uses are as a delivery vector for cancer- fighting pharmaceuticals and as a treatment for osteoporosis. As the most fully developed and tested of several of her lab’s projects, the next step is to set up a company to manufacture and market the hydrogel.

Dr. Simona Bar-Haim, head of the Laboratory for Rehabilitation and Motor Control of Walking at Ben-Gurion and a faculty member of its health sciences school, has taken the concept of empowering women in research and academia to another level with the Middle East Stepping Forward project funded in large part by U.S. Agency for International Development.

“We made a request [in the research proposal] that half of the researchers and medical clinicians we work with [must be] women,” said Bar-Haim, “and that half of the people receiving the rehab [must be] women.” The hope is that women on the team will be exposed to the idea “they [can] grow to become strong women. You know, it’s a process.”

As an extension of the work begun in her lab, Bar-Haim works with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian researchers to develop effective treatments for teens with cerebral palsy and brain trauma patients by way of re-patterning learning pathways in the brain. The goal is to help patients walk more efficiently and with more confidence, not to “normalize” a defective gait.

The Re-Step training technology, developed by Bar-Haim, is based on chaos theory. For therapeutic treatment, a patient wears specially designed shoes equipped with sensor pistons on the sole that emulate walking upon an unexpected environment. The movement of the pistons is generated by a chaos-based algorithm and creates the sensation of walking upon quickly changing terrain that causes slight uncertainty as the patient walks. The software adapts to each person’s gait according to his abilities.

But visually for the patient, the look of the terrain doesn’t change. For instance, as he walks using the therapeutic shoes down a hallway or sidewalk, all he sees is even terrain — but cognitively, his brain is processing the chaotic micro-movements created by the shoes. The patient compensates for the changes through balance, thus retraining the brain to adjust each step to walk with more ease and efficiency.

The movements created by the pistons are micro increments, “because the brain learns from small errors. If movement would be too big, it would be [registered as] artificial” by the brain, explained Bar-Haim. “So there are small changes for each step; up or down, left or right. … We think this is the best training to target areas in the brain for creating plasticity of the [pathways] that control motor function.”

Bar-Haim, who has been working with this technology since 2004, is conducting treatment at clinics in East Jerusalem, Hebron and Amman, Jordan.

“Every new project and new thing we’re doing, we’re asking that women will be involved,” she said. “They are progressing, they are going forward, step by step.”

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AIPAC Doubles Down Focus on Iran

‍‍2015-03-09 17:26:19 - כח כסלו תשעה mshapiro

Organizers for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee told attendees of its Policy Conference 2015 that unlike previous years –where a number of issues and pieces of legislation made up the slate of lobbying initiatives – this Tuesday delegates should focus solely on “stopping Iran.”

“When we go to the Hill on Tuesday, we will stress the urgency of the Iranian nuclear issue,” said Ambassador Brad Gordon, director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC. “And we will ask Congress, first: to support diplomacy by increasing economic pressure on Iran. Second: to insist on a good agreement, one that truly prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. And third: to play a key role in reviewing any agreement.”

Once again, AIPAC’s policy specialist called on attendees to convince their representatives that additional economic sanctions on Iran would give the administration more leverage during its negotiation, a tactic to which President Barack Obama’s administration objects.

The Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act of 2015, also known as the Kirk-Menendez bill (S. 269) will be AIPAC lobbyists’ primary objective when they meet with members. The bill calls for cascading monthly increased in sanctions that will begin if a final deal is not completed by the July 1 deadline.

“How do we do this?” Gordon asked. “It starts with our first message to Congress: Support diplomacy by increasing pressure. We believe negotiations have the best chances to succeed if Iran understands the economic and political price it will pay for refusing to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”

AIPAC attendees were further urged to advocate for the new Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 – known as the Corker bill – which was co-sponsored by 11 other senators and introduced this past Friday.

President Obama has long been clear about his intensions to veto Kirk-Menendez, and added Saturday that he intdends to do the same with Corker’s bill. The bill would prohibit the president from suspending or waiving sanctions on Iran for 60 days post-agreement; would require the agreement’s text to be submitted to Congress five days prior to the potential final deal’s signing; and calls for an assessment of Iran’s compliance every 90 days.

Concluded Gordon, “[We’ve] seen America make every effort to resolve this issue peacefully and we’ve seen Iran refuse to waver on its dangerous nuclear program. … On Tuesday we will urge Congress to take immediate action.”

JT Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan will be live tweeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Monday morning via @jewishtimes. Netanyahu speaks at the morning plenary, which runs from 8:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m.


Melissa Apter is a reporter for Baltimore Jewish Times.

Dmitriy Shapiro is the Political Reporter at the Washington Jewish Week.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year's JFNA GA. The keyword: security.
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Jewish Groups Slam Boteach Ad on Susan Rice

‍‍2015-03-02 17:13:49 - כח כסלו תשעה hnorris

WASHINGTON — An array of Jewish groups condemned an ad by a foundation associated with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach accusing National Security Adviser Susan Rice of turning a blind eye to genocide.

“Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide,” said the advertisement appearing in Saturday’s New York Times, touting a talk on Iran this week in Washington hosted by Boteach, the New Jersey-based author and pro-Israel advocate.

As soon as the Sabbath ended, Jewish groups rushed to condemn the ad by This World: The Values Network.

The American Jewish Committee called it “revolting,” the Anti-Defamation League called it “spurious and perverse,” the Jewish Federations of North America called it “outrageous” and Josh Block, the president of The Israel Project, said it was “entirely inappropriate.”

Marshall Wittmann, the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which will host Rice on Monday at its annual conference, said, “Ad hominem attacks should have no place in our discourse.”

On Sunday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement blasting the ad.

Other condemnations came from the Orthodox Union, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. In a combined statement, the leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism and Reform’s Religious Action Center called the ad “grotesque,” “abhorrent” and a “sinister slur.”

The ad notes Rice’s recent complaints about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday, which was organized without consulting the White House. Netanyahu plans to speak against the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers, which President Barack Obama backs. Rice said last week that the way the speech was organized was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The ad also notes a controversy from the 1990s, when Rice was on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff and reportedly advised against describing the mass killings in Rwanda as “genocide.”

“Ms. Rice may be blind to the issue of genocide, but should treat our ally with at least as much diplomatic courtesy as she does the committed enemy of both our nations,” it said.

In an interview, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who directs the Rabbinical Assembly, said Rice deserved an apology from Boteach.

The ad “is completely inconsistent with the record of friendship and loyalty this public official has shown Israel and the Jewish people,” Schonfeld said.

Rice grew close to pro-Israel and Jewish groups during her stint as U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in Obama’s first term, through her efforts to head off attacks on Israel and protect vulnerable populations in Sudan.

“It is not up to Shmuley Boteach to make it appear this is the way the Jewish community treats our friends,” Schonfeld said.

Boteach in an interview said he stood behind the ad.

“The stakes could not be higher, and our ad rightly points out that Susan Rice has gone beyond any mandate in condemning the prime minister for simply speaking out,” he said. “Condemnation should be directed not at those who seek to give Israel a voice but to those who seek to deny it.”

Boteach, whose talk on Monday will take place in a Senate office building and will include Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist, as well as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has appealed to AIPAC activists to attend.

Sherman condemned the ad on Twitter, but did not say if he was still participating in the event it was promoting.

“This ad is outrageous and harms the U.S.-Israel alliance,” he said. “It should be denounced in every forum.”

AIPAC, like many of the groups that have condemned the ad, is skeptical of the Iran nuclear talks.

Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, a group that has been pronouncedly skeptical of the talks, on Twitter described the ad as an “inappropriate ad hominem attack” that “doesn’t advance discourse on key issue of Iran.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, who heads the JCPA, the public policy umbrella for the community, said the ad was a blow against bipartisan support for Israel.

“It’s a sad moment for the Jewish community to have this ad appear,” he said in an interview.

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The Other Pro-Israel Lobby

‍‍2015-02-03 10:44:54 - כח כסלו תשעה eclare


“Usually after the first event, it’s like a firestorm,” said Pastor Scott Thomas, the Florida state director for Christians United for Israel (CUFI). “The excitement hits, the understanding settles in.”

That, in short, illustrates the process through which CUFI has become America’s largest pro-Israel organization in less than a decade of existence. In January, CUFI announced that its mem-bership surpassed the 2-million mark. (The organization defines members as email-list subscrib-ers whose addresses do not produce bounce-backs when messaged.)

Since its founding in 2006, CUFI has held more than 2,100 pro-Israel events, sent hundreds of thousands of advocacy emails to government officials, and trained thousands of college students to make the case for Israel across the U.S.

Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and national chairman, said that when he called 400 Evan-gelical Christian leaders to San Antonio in 2006 to pitch them on the idea of CUFI, he thought his concept of pro-Israel programming that would “not be conversionary in any sense of the word” might deter the leaders. Instead, when he asked them to raise their hands if they accepted his proposal, “400 men raised their hands with an absolute unity that was breathtaking.”

“It was one of those surreal moments that was difficult to believe had happened so effortlessly, and Christians United for Israel took off,” Hagee said at the 10th annual CUFI Leadership Sum-mit in San Antonio on Jan. 27.

While Hagee planned for the initial group of 400 leaders to advocate for Israel on Capitol Hill that summer as a “test group,” the leaders spread the word among their own churches, and CUFI ended up bringing 3,500 people on the mission to Washington, D.C.

CUFI continues to grow exponentially, but Hagee isn’t satisfied. He said the organization hopes to double its membership to 4 million over the next two to three years.

“We are very delighted with our 2 million-plus membership base, but we want it to be many multiples of that,” said Hagee. “We feel that it’s imperative [to understand] that our ability to go to Washington representing 8 to 10 million people would be considerably greater than just 2 mil-lion.”

What’s the secret behind CUFI’s growth?

“It kind of happens organically,” said Thomas, the Florida state director. “It happens from all different angles. We’ll get a phone call from somebody who attends a congregation and says, ‘Hey, I would like for my pastor to receive information about CUFI.’ And so we’ll send out in-formation packets to those pastors to start the conversation. We’ll introduce them to CUFI, tell them what the events are like and what CUFI stands for. And then hopefully beyond that, we’ll be able to generate a follow-up phone call, introduce CUFI [to the pastor] verbally, answer any questions he might have, and find out what his perspective and stance and theology are on Is-rael.”

From there, CUFI offers to host a “Standing with Israel” event at that pastor’s church, an ap-proximately hour-long educational and informational session on the biblical roots of Christian support for Israel as well as current events in the Middle East. Eventually, the goal is to facilitate a larger program called “A Night to Honor Israel” — CUFI’s signature event, which the organi-zation aims to host in every major U.S. city each year.

“A Night to Honor Israel,” however, significantly predates CUFI. Hagee said that in 1981, he sought to organize the event as a one-time gesture to thank Israel for bombing Iraq’s Osirak nu-clear reactor. But then Hagee received death threats, as well as a bomb threat to the venue on the night of the event. His response? More than three decades of Nights to Honor Israel.

“I told my wife, we’re going to do a Night to Honor Israel until these anti-Semitic rednecks get used to it,” Hagee said. “And 34 years later, it has grown all over the nation.”

Pastor Tim Burt, CUFI’s Minnesota state director, recalled that CUFI began to gain momentum in that state after “a very effective and successful Night to Honor Israel.”

“I identified leaders in cities that very much had a passion for the support of Israel, and I began to meet with those leaders, raising up city leaders [for CUFI] throughout Minnesota… and [dis-cussing] how they could have an impact within their city and spheres of influence,” said Burt.

CUFI has now three-dozen city leaders in Minnesota. After CUFI took 16 pastors of African-rooted Minnesota churches on a trip to Israel last year, one of the pastors on that trip organized a trip of his own for 16 more pastors.

“It’s starting to snowball in that respect,” Burt said.

Aiding the “snowball effect” for CUFI is America’s predominantly Christian population. Former Minnesota congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who attended the CUFI Leadership Summit, noted the “growing market” and “strong foundation” for Christian support of Israel.

“I think in light of the attacks and the aggressiveness that we see against the Jewish state, we’re going to see more and more Christians who are going to see a vehicle wherein they can demon-strate their support for the Jewish state, and I think Christians United for Israel is that obvious vehicle,” said Bachmann.

Before CUFI, despite the presence of a “reservoir of instinctive support for Israel” in America, that base of support “had a hard time finding a way to express itself,” said CUFI board member Gary Bauer, the U.S. Under Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan.

“As CUFI was set up, and Pastor Hagee and [his wife] Diana had this vision, and others joined with them, and then as time passed and people saw us speaking up, whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat, or whether there was Republican Congress or a Democratic Con-gress, I think the word spread,” said Bauer. “If you were pro-Israel, if you care about the alliance between these two great nations, and you want to do something, but you live in Toledo or Knox-ville or Birmingham or Sacramento… this is the organization you can invest in and feel confi-dent that you’re not going to wake up one morning and see an embarrassing story.”

Pastor Victor Styrsky, CUFI’s eastern regional coordinator, echoed Bauer’s sentiment.

“We’d bring Jews and Christians together [before CUFI existed],” said Styrsky. “We didn’t call them Nights to Honor Israel, but we were doing those, and rallies, and we were emptying savings accounts, running full-page ads, and we had no CUFI to keep it going, so we would literally dis-appear for years.”

Styrsky said that now, when he speaks to pastors on behalf of CUFI, “Almost always at the end of 45 minutes to an hour, we see the light bulbs go off, and a new journey has begun. … That’s how we keep going.”

Inclusiveness is also part of growth strategy at CUFI, which is “not targeting a specific demo-graphic in terms of ethnicity,” said Pastor Dumisani Washington, the organization’s diversity outreach coordinator.

“My job is to begin to reach out to everyone, and try our best to let them know that we want them here, and let them know that there’s a home here for whoever they are ethnically, if they are standing with Israel as Christians,” Washington said.

Bauer said CUFI supporters “can come to the table with all kinds of faith perspectives, and in some cases with no faith perspective at all.”

“We take those allies wherever we can get them, but we continue to do our harvesting in the church community, where we know there’s a natural predilection or bias towards standing with Israel based on the teachings of the Christian faith,” he said.

Kasim Hafeez, who addressed the CUFI Leadership Summit crowd on his jihadist-turned-Zionist personal story, offered an outsider’s perspective on both the success of CUFI and why the orga-nization is a frequent target of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic criticism.

“Here’s why [anti-Semites] hate CUFI, and one simple word explains it all: fear,” Hafeez said.

While anti-Semites believe they can easily bully Jews, he said, CUFI’s mobilization of the much larger Christian community is more imposing.

“What the haters didn’t see was 2015, over 2 million Christians praying for Israel… Mark my words, there is no organization, there are no four letters, that will make an anti-Semite’s blood run cold more than C-U-F-I,” said Hafeez.

Moving forward, how will CUFI meet its aforementioned goal of doubling its membership to 4 million within three years?

“The specific step that we will have to take is to raise the funds to hire more regional directors and state directors,” said Hagee. “We need more people in the field meeting and training pastors and concerned Christians how to become a leader in this organization for the benefit of Israel.”

CUFI is also bolstering its overseas presence, with plans to start a United Kingdom branch. Hagee said that in the U.K., CUFI would combat anti-Semitism by soliciting the help of spiritual and government leaders “to look this evil tidal wave eye to eye and call it what it is, and get peo-ple to admit that a very lackadaisical attitude toward the Jewish people and Israel have created this monster that must be addressed.”

Hagee emphasized the biblical mandate to fight anti-Semitism, quoting the verse from Isaiah 61, “For Zion’s sake, I will not keep quiet, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not be silent.”

“The message here is that Christians are to speak out, publicly, in defense of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, that we are authorized to combat anti-Semitism as aggressively as we pos-sibly can,” said Hagee.

He added, “If you took away the Jewish contribution from Christianity, there would be no Chris-tianity, so fundamentally, Christians owe the Jewish people everything. Period. Once a person sees that, he’s committed to take action in defense of the Jewish people.”

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