Sipping a hot Starbucks in the cool lobby, I was wrapping an interview with Steven Khoury, the brave Palestinian Christian pastor from Bethlehem, on the second day of the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit.
I noticed two young women across the street, manning a makeshift “BDS” protest display. Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions is the ideological basis of the “new anti-Zionism.” It calls for, among other things, shunning companies that do business with the Israelis.
I was intrigued to see these two in the sweltering heat, their Palestinian flag unfurled in a light breeze.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, I readied my camera and approached. They were cordial and handed me a flyer. I photographed the girl with the flag and we chatted for a minute, then her compatriot engaged me. She asked whom I was writing for and I told her.
“Are those Christians?” she asked. I told her yes, that I was covering the Christians United for Israel Summit.
The conversation turned sour.
As I raised my cellphone to take one last picture (the girl had already told me she didn’t want to show her face “to Israel,” and I complied), I could sense something was going very wrong. Evidently I misunderstood her that a fifth photo was acceptable; she had turned her back and displayed the flag.
“Hey, what are you doing? She said to stop!” shouted her friend. I apologized and said that I had misunderstood about the final image.
“You didn’t misunderstand! What are you doing? You’re violating her rights, and Israel already violates her rights!” She then told me that I had understood, but decided to take the picture anyway.
I stepped back, a bit astonished. The flag-bearer told me that she is a Palestinian who “cannot visit for Christmas or Easter, because Israel won’t let me in.”
I had crossed the busy street to get their perspective—the contrast was huge and stark between their cardboard boxes and homemade signs, and the gargantuan Convention Center bursting at the seams with pro Israel activists—and I thought I’d end up explaining myself to a police officer.
So highlights the divide between those who advocate for Israel and those who advocate for the Palestinians. How ironic that I’d just come from listening to Khoury give an impassioned case for loving all people, including Jews.
Thankfully, my brief interview of the BDS protestors didn’t derail another riveting day at the CUFI Summit.
In the afternoon, there was a Middle East Briefing, headed by a video address from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Comically, I was asked by a tardy journalist, “Did he say anything?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, he did. Speaking from Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, to thunderous applause, “We know we are not alone.”
He thanked the audience and the CUFI leadership for fighting, among other things, “One of the greatest lies of modern times, that the Israelis are occupiers of Judea and Samaria.” He then emphatically declared, “The Jewish people will not deny our own history.”
Gary Bauer’s introduction of Sen. Joe Lieberman underscored the bi-partisan nature of CUFI’s activities, especially in Washington, D.C. Lieberman spoke movingly of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage; he even quoted from the book of Mark. He described himself as “Your brother, Joseph.”
Interestingly, Lieberman acknowledged John Hagee as a bridge builder; the San Antonio pastor has been described by the left as a polarizing figure. Yet here was a sophisticated (non-Republican) politician calling Hagee a unifier!
“Our shared commitment to Israel begins with Scripture,” Lieberman insisted.
Ari Fleischer, the former spokesman for George W. Bush, brought some light-hearted moments, recalling his mother’s public comments (the family identifying as liberal Democrats) about her son working for Republicans: “I hope this is just a phase he’s going through.” Fleischer remembered fondly working with those outside his original orbit, including Texans who asked him if “Ari” stood for “R-period, E-period?”
Turning serious, Fleischer said, “I love being with you here.” He said that Israel is at risk and that by extension, Christians are at risk. With the new frontier of global jihad, Fleischer noted that Israel stands as a beacon of freedom. His poignant laundry list of cultural propaganda efforts by the Palestinians was sobering, yet his overall message of pride in being a Jew and an American resonated with the audience, and he exuded a message of hope and solidarity.
Malcolm Hoenlein referred to John Hagee as “my pastor,” and called Hagee and his wife, Diane, the “dynamic duo.” Hoenlein is the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Hoenlein hit hard the theme of Muslim rejectionism, mentioning the “ludicrous” attempts to wipe Jewish history from such sites as the Western Wall, Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of Machpelah.
“If you take away our past, you cut off our future,” he said.
Hoenlein delivered a speech that seemed to stun the crowd for its force and clarity; thunderous, sustained applause greeted his passionate defense of the Jewish state, and he seemed comfortable serving notice that advocates for Israel would no longer tolerate lies and slander from the left, and from Israel’s jihadist enemies.
Concluding the briefing was CBN’s host of Stakelbeck on Terror, Erick Stakelbeck. The tall, articulate whistleblower (who has authored the book, The Terrorist Next Door) was at ease in front of the announced crowd of 5,000.
Stakelbeck said he just returned from Europe and he said that when he interviews terrorists, they think CBN stands for Canadian Broadcasting Network!
He met with a counter-terrorism official from the EU and asked him, “Sir, are you concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe?”
Stakelbeck said the man answered, “Not really.” He went on to say that the man denied that the murder of four French Jews in Toulouse in March was committed by a Muslim terrorist (even though the shooter shouted, “Death to the Jews!”).
Stakelbeck went on to say that he refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as “terrorists in suits.” He said they are as dangerous as al-Qaida because they seek to destroy from within.
“You never see them coming,” he explained. “They wear designer glasses, they are fluent in English, eloquent. They take the media and they spin them like a top.”
Stakelbeck concluded by saying that pro-Israel Christians can be bold in defending Israel and freedom because the Lord is with us and will strengthen us.
In the late afternoon, ahead of the “Night to Honor Israel” banquet, a press briefing was held. A panel of five CUFI representatives chatted easily with reporters (from outlets ranging from The Daily Beast to Israeli newspapers). David Brog echoed Hoenlein’s statements that no longer would slander, lies and denials of Jewish and Christian history be tolerated without a response.
The atmosphere at this year’s Summit was upbeat, with attendees buoyed by informative workshops, personal time with CUFI representatives, tools to combat terrorist propaganda and rousing speeches.
At least on this day, the forces allied with Israel far out-numbered the uneven, irrational message of the tiny protest crowd across the street.