Controversy stirs at Christians United for Israel summit

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Controversial Minnesota minister is among CUFI leaders.

Christians United for Israel met with Congress members last week as part of the second annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Summit. Led by Pastor John Hagee, the group called on Congress to support preemptive military action on Iran, and to oppose a two-state solution for the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Journalist Max Blumenthal brought a video camera into the summit, and interviewed attendees about the motivation behind CUFI. According to CUFI members, the return of Jesus depends on the protection of Israel, and that a peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbors is contrary to the Biblical prophecy of the Rapture. Blumenthal asked some hard questions, and was escorted out of the summit.

Mac Hammond, pastor and founder of Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minn. served as the Midwest regional director for CUFI and now sits on its executive board according to Alternet. Hammond could be seen standing (in Blumenthal’s footage) beside Hagee at a press conference earlier in the day disputing the groups’ focus on end-times theology in its support for Israel.

Hagee told reporters that “our support of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end times prophecy. It has absolutely nothing to do with eschatology.” Mac Hammond defended Hagee and said that questions about eschatology (theology and philosophy concerned with the final events in the history of the world) “distracted” from the discussion. Alternet’s Sarah Posner asked one of Hagee’s public relations people about CUFI and eschatology. She said that Hagee wears two hats: one as preacher, the other as political activist.

At the Night to Honor Israel event at the Summit, Hagee said, “God deals with nations, churches and people as they deal with Israel and the Jewish people.”

“It is 1938 all over again,” said Hagee. “Iran is Germany, Ahmadinejad is Hitler and he is talking about killing the Jews. The only way to prevent a nuclear war is to make certain it never starts. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not give in to sanctions. It is time for America to adopt Sen. [Joseph] Lieberman’s words and consider a military preemptive strike against Iran.”

Presidential Candidate and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made a surprise visit to the summit. During a presentation he said, “The bond between America and Israel is not just a strategic one, though that is important. The more profound tie between our two countries is a moral one. We are two democracies whose alliance is forged in our common values. To be proudly pro-American and pro-Israeli is not to hold conflicting loyalties. It is about defending the principles that both countries hold dear. That is why today I stand as I believe so many of you do: a Christian, proudly pro-American and proudly pro-Israel.”

While one high-profile Minnesotan, Hammond, is enthusiastically supportive of CUFI, another, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., is outspoken in opposition to CUFI’s message and its leader, John Hagee. “Well-publicized statements by Pastor Hagee demonstrate extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant,” wrote McCollum in an April letter to Hagee declining an invitation to CUFI’s a Night to Honor Israel at Mac Hammond’s Brooklyn Park church. McCollum’s Chief of Staff Bill Harper met with Minnesota members of CUFI last week.

“[CUFI] is really frankly a radical leadership,” Harper told the San Antonio Express News. “They are dangerous to any prospects of ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”