Like everyone else, my email inbox is constantly plagued by waves of junk mail. Lately I seem to have a new addition — I’ve somehow ended up on the mailing list of Christians United for Israel, the most militant of Christian Zionist groups. CUFI’s regular newsletters are the latest debris to be washed up in my inbox. The few I’ve read are full of deliberate doublethink and startling mistruths, all the more worrying for their posing as Biblical facts.
I tend not to read these newsletters before I delete them because they make my blood boil, but last week I decided to give one a cursory glance. That day’s cutesy Zionist project: “Show that your house stands with Israel! Place a beautiful CUFI mezuzah on your doorpost!”
For the bargain price of $36, you could not only further the work of CUFI, but stamp Israel’s sovereignty on your home as well. While this would be easy to dismiss as the usual eye-roll-inducing nonsense, I can’t help but feel that this is more damaging than it first appears.
Firstly, the mezuzah is a Jewish tradition, not a Christian one. Christian Zionists in general, and CUFI in particular, often misappropriate Jewish culture to further their political aims.
In Judaism, the mezuzah is a symbol of the sovereignty of God, a declaration of his scripture being “inscribed on the doorposts.” For CUFI, however, the mezuzah has morphed into a political symbol of affiliation with the Zionist state, a way to “show that your house stands with Israel,” rather than under the authority of God.
“Every symbol on this unique mezuzah has special meaning,” the newsletter declares. “Since CUFI members are watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, the top of the mezuzah displays the Eastern Gate of the old city of Jerusalem. The American and Israeli flags symbolize the importance of the US-Israel alliance.”
Political, not spiritual
Again, while mezuzahs would traditionally be decorated with religious or artistic symbolism, CUFI has draped its one in nationalist imagery, mutating the meaning to send a distinctly political, rather than spiritual message.
Mezuzah aside, there are further problems with the thinking behind this message. Like most Christian Zionist literature, this particular letter is full of the usual Orientalist rhetoric of Israel as a bastion of goodness in a sea of hostility, painting the Arab people as a homogenous, dangerous and inherently evil entity, and Israel as a helpless victim. “From Cairo to Beirut, from Gaza to Damascus, and from Ramallah to Tehran, the Jewish people are surrounded by enemies who seek to destroy them,” CUFI declares. “These are truly dark and dangerous days for our ally Israel.”
This sort of language is not unusual amongst Christian Zionists. They would paint the occupying, US-backed Zionist state as endangered and helpless, and the occupied, stateless, disenfranchised Palestinians as an aggressive and terminal threat.
Threatened by boycott
The final blow, however, came in the form a cheery postscript denouncing the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and offering an alternative to Israel’s staunch supporters:
“P.S.: Israel’s enemies are mounting an aggressive campaign to harm Israel’s economy by organizing boycotts of Israeli-made goods. We are proud that our CUFI mezuzahs are made in Israel! So when you give your gift and receive your mezuzah, you not only help us defend Israel here at home you are directly contributing to Israel’s economy. What a wonderful way to stand with Israel against those seeking to boycott her!”
While it is potentially encouraging that the vastly powerful Christian Zionist base feels at least a little threatened by the BDS movement, I find this sort of rhetoric incredibly disturbing. Here, anyone who struggles for justice for Palestinians is an “aggressive” enemy of Israel and, by proxy, God himself. The very people aiming to demonstrate godly justice and bring an end to the suffering of Palestinians are demonized as aggressors.
The influence of CUFI is not to be sniffed at — it is the self-declared “largest pro-Israel organization in the United States,” serving 1.3 million members and conducting hundreds of pro-Israel events each year. CUFI has a vast empire of support and a significant platform with which to infiltrate public opinion with hatred towards the peoples of the Middle East. Its web of influence contributes hugely to the entrenched pro-Israel discourse in the US; newsletters like these are dropping into hundreds of thousands of mailboxes, both real and virtual, on a regular basis.
Whether slighting those seeking justice or transforming a religious symbol like a mezuzah into little more than a politically-charged bumper sticker, CUFI has a worrying knack for morphing meanings and turning truths on their head. Once again it proves a deftness at turning the oppressed into oppressors and victimizers into victims, invoking the name of a God of peace while banging the drums of war.
Emily Lawrence is a freelance writer currently based in the UK. She can be contacted via Twitter @EmilyWarda.