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Protesters rally as Christian-Zionist leaders heap praise on Trump for Israel support

Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence and John Bolton among high-profile speakers at Christians United For Israel summit
Around 100 protesters stood in the rain to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation (MEE/Azad Essa)
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Washington DC

US-Israel relations are at the strongest point they have ever been in the two countries' history.

That was the overwhelming message heard on Monday as the two-day Christians United for Israel (CUFI) summit kicked off at the Washington Convention Centre.

The annual Christian Zionist summit, attended by thousands of delegates from across the United States, as well as other countries around the world, is one of the most feverish platforms of support for the Israeli state.

According to the organisers, the first day was "packed with special guests who are top pro-Israel leaders and are prominently shaping the relationship between the US and Israel". 

US Vice President Mike Pence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and senior White House security adviser John Bolton were in attendance, while Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the attendees via video link from Israel.

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CUFI did not reply to MEE's requests for comment on the conference.

It also rejected MEE's application for media accrediation to attend the summit.

But outside the venue on Monday, around 100 protesters gathered to demonstrate against Israel's continued human rights abuses and crimes against Palestinians.

Tarek Abuatta, executive director of Friends of Sabeel of North America (FOSNA), a Christian organisation that seeks justice and peace in the Holy Land, told MEE that members of his group were there to highlight the injustices of the Israeli occupation.

"It's important to take a stand," he said.

Earlier in the day, Abuatta was carried out of the summit after chanting "Zionism is racism" inside the venue.

Taher Herzallah says that it is imperative for Muslim organisations to be at the forefront of opposing CUFI and what it represents [Azad Essa/MEE]
Taher Herzallah says Muslim organisations must be at the forefront of opposition to CUFI [Azad Essa/MEE]

Another activist, Taher Herzallah, associate director of outreach and grassroots organising with American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), told Middle East Eye that having Pence and Pompeo at the summit "gives CUFI a type of legitimacy".

He said their participation also cemented the connection between white supremacy and rightwing evangelicals.

It is estimated that between 15 and 18 percent of all Evangelical Christians in the US are fundamental Christian Zionists, according to Donald Wagner, a professor of religion and Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago.

And they figure among some of US President Donald Trump's most ardent supporters.

Herzallah added that the Trump adminstration's support for CUFI demonstrates that the US is in no position to faciliate a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Tarek Abuata [Azad Essa/Middle East Eye]
Tarek Abuata addresses protesters outside the venue in Washington [Azad Essa/MEE]

Senior members of the Trump administration, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have sought to promote and pressure Palestinians into accepting the so-called "deal of the century" to solve the conflict.

The economic side of the deal, which was made public last month under the title "Peace to Prosperity", is a jargon-laden roadmap on how to distribute more than $50bn. It has been flatly rejected by Palestinian leaders.

Pressure on Iran

Earlier in the day, Pompeo told the CUFI delegates that one of the best parts of his job involves turning Trump's touted commitment to Israel "into real action".

"We have implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime, and we are not done," he said to rapacious applause.

"We have honoured Israel's decision to claim the Golan Heights as its own," Pompeo added, referring to Trump's recognition in March of Israeli "sovereignty" over the occupied Syrian territory. 

Another topic discussed at length during day one of the summit was Trump's dismantling of former US President Barack Obama's Iran deal.

'We have implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime, and we are not done'

- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Netanyahu, in his address to the delegates, said that Israel was deeply grateful to Trump for ending the deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran.

Whereas the activities and influence of pro-Israel group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Congress is well documented, observers say the influence of Christian-Zionist organisations on US foreign policy continues to slip under the radar.

AIPAC claims to have around 100,000 members, while CUFI says it has over five million, a number that is difficult to verify.

"In most analyses of US policy, it is given lip service but is not deeply investigated," Jonathan Brenneman, a Palestinian-American Christian working with the Mennonite Church USA, told MEE in a previous interview.

"I see it as part of a bigger problem of underestimating radical conservatism in the USA," he said.

"The pro-Israel bias of the US Congress, especially on the Republican side, is more due to Christian Zionism among evangelicals than it has to do with appealing to the Jewish community in the US. This is most clear in President Trump's policies."