The Wealthy Donors Behind Christians United for Israel

Photo: Former Vice President Mike Pence (left) with CUFI founder John Hagee (via Flickr)

Since Israel’s 2023 war on Gaza began, American evangelical Christian leaders have been outspoken about their staunch support of Israel. In fact, right wing evangelicals “have long formed the backbone of the Republican Party’s support of Israel.” Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which claims to be the largest “pro-Israel” organization in the country, is one of the key engines of the Christian Zionist movement, which sees the state of Israel as instrumental for bringing about the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. For decades, the right-wing evangelical pastor who founded CUFI, John Hagee, has made headlines for his anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, and racist beliefs. Recently, Hagee was invited to speak alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson at the March for Israel, a rally supporting the Israeli government’s continued siege and bombardment of Gaza.

As CUFI and the hateful ideology of Christian Zionism shifts from a fringe to a mainstream movement that contributes tens of millions of dollars to Israel, it is increasingly important to understand the network of donors propping up Hagee’s platform. Unfortunately, there is little transparency about CUFI’s funding because U.S. tax codes do not require religious charities to disclose finances publicly. Our research attempts to shed some light on the family foundations of ultra-wealthy donors and associations that awarded grants to CUFI in their 990 tax filings. 

While Hagee remains the public face of CUFI, the organization is sustained by a deep network of donors financing and propping up the organization. Many of these wealthy donors and anonymous donor-advised funds have ties to anti-Muslim hate groups and a record of spewing Islamaphobic rhetoric.

The Christian right is mobilizing to support Israel’s war on Gaza

At the time of this publication, more than 18,700 Palestinians, including 7,700 children, have been killed and 50,000 wounded by Israel’s horrific bombardment of Gaza. This humanitarian disaster has left most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents homeless and with little to no access to food, water, and basic medical care, in what UN experts are referring to as “a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.” 

Over the last two months, people all over the world have organized and joined record-setting mass mobilizations demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire. In the U.S., the largest pro-Palestine rally in the country’s history brought an estimated 300,000 people together to demand a ceasefire in Washington, D.C. on November 4th, 2023. A little over a week later, the March for Israel drew scrutiny for inviting controversial right-wing evangelical pastor, John Hagee, to speak alongside pro-Israel Congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Christian fundamentalist House Speaker Mike Johnson. Since the beginning of the war, American evangelicals have been clear about their unequivocal support for Israel. 

Hagee is a high-profile pastor and televangelist who founded Hagee Ministries and Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which claims to be “the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S.” For decades, Hagee has been condemned for the anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-LGBT, and racist rhetoric in his sermons. Senator John McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement in 2008 after a sermon surfaced in which Hagee claimed Adolf Hilter was a “hunter sent by God” to kill Jews because “God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.” That same year, Hagee said in an interview that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment from God for hosting a gay pride parade, and was later forced to retract the statement after receiving public scrutiny. In recent years, however, GOP officials have more openly embraced Christian Zionism and sought the support of Hagee and CUFI. Republican presidential hopefuls Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence all courted votes at CUFI’s annual summit earlier this year, highlighting how far the GOP’s embrace of Christian Zionism has come since the McCain scandal.

CUFI’s ideology: Israel’s war on Gaza brings the world one step closer to end times, when all “nonbelievers” will be punished

Since Israel began its war on Gaza in October, American evangelical leaders have been vocally supporting Israel. Why, exactly? Sarah Posner, the author of the book Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind, succinctly summarized the Christian Zionist ideology in her MSNBC piece titled, “The dispiriting truth about why many evangelical Christians support Israel.” In the article, Posner writes:

Evangelicals’ support isn’t simply driven by a theology that compels them to love the Holy Land, detached from its convulsive domestic and global political implications. For many “Christians Zionists,” and particularly for popular evangelists with significant clout within the Republican Party, their support for Israel is rooted in its role in the supposed end times: Jesus’ return to Earth, a bloody final battle at Armageddon, and Jesus ruling the world from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In this scenario, war is not something to be avoided, but something inevitable, desired by God, and celebratory.

What happens to the Jews and Palestinians is, to put it very mildly, collateral damage. Christian Zionists are anticipating, and hoping for a war to end all wars, and a resulting Christian world that they claim will vanquish evil and bring peace. Only those who accept Jesus as their savior will benefit from these events that Christian Zionists claim the Bible predicts will happen. Nonbelievers — including Jews and Muslims — will not survive them.

John Hagee “has long been one of the most visible and powerful proponents of this [Christian Zionist] ideology.” Christians United for Israel has funded the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and fiercely opposed United Nations Security Council initiatives condemning the expansion of settlements. This year, Hagee held the 43rd annual “Night to Honor Israel” fundraiser headlined by Gilad Edan, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Hagee Ministries claims to have raised more than $100 million for Israeli and Jewish organizations since its first Night to Honor Israel fundraiser. Some of the annual donors to this event, like the Quad Cities Association of Evangelicals and the Mississippi Evangelical Association, disclose their contributions are intended for “building educational facilities, assisting in the relocation of Jews to Israel and to support Christians United for Israel in their mission to educate Americans.” In a 2018 report, Israeli newspaper Haaretz estimated that evangelical organizations in the U.S. had sent $50-$65 million to Israel over the last decade.

Where does CUFI get its money?

Very little is known about CUFI’s finances because the U.S. tax code does not require religious charities to disclose their finances publicly. Using ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer database, we found 162 mentions of “Christians United for Israel” in the 990 filings of organizations and foundations that had granted money to CUFI between 2012 and 2022. These contributions totaled $5.2 million from 71 different funders. While this does not represent the full picture of CUFI’s donors, it gives us a glimpse at some of the organization’s philanthropic ties. 

An analysis of the top 20 donors that emerged from the search revealed three categories of funders: Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), family foundations, and Christian associations or ministries.

Donor-Advised Funds

National Philanthropic Trust and National Christian Charitable Foundation

The National Philanthropic Trust and the National Christian Charitable Foundation are donor-advised funds, i.e. philanthropic vehicles that allow wealthy individuals to anonymously donate to nonprofits and get significant tax breaks in return. The National Philanthropic Trust has contributed at least $1.4 million to CUFI from 2014-2016. The National Christian Charitable Foundation has contributed at least $185,420 to CUFI from 2014-2021. Between 2015 and 2017, The National Christian Charitable Foundation gave more than $56.1 million to a series of organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to a report by Newsweek.

Family Foundations

Family foundations that contributed to CUFI include: the Shillman Foundation, Adelson Family Foundation, Marcus Foundation, Milstein Family Foundation, Joyce Robinson Foundation, Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation, and the Manhattan Charitable Foundation. Together, these seven foundations contributed more than $2.7 million to CUFI from 2012 to 2022. These foundations are funded by ultra-wealthy individuals, many of whom are also funders of other right wing causes like anti-Muslim hate groups, anti-union campaigns, and Donald Trump. Notably, five of these donors are Jewish, illustrating how unconditional support for the state of Israel has brought some right-wing American Jewish political donors into a seemingly unlikely alliance with Hagee’s anti-Seminitic political project that seeks to use Israel to hasten the apocalypse.

The table below summarizes the contributions from these seven family foundations that we were able to identify.

Select Family Foundation Donors to Christians United for Israel 

DonorAmountYear
ADELSON FAMILY FOUNDATION$1,100,0002020
THE MANHATTAN CHARITABLE FOUNDATIONC/O FLYNN FAMILY OFFICE$25,0002017
THE MARCUS FOUNDATION INC$60,0002020
THE MARCUS FOUNDATION INC$60,0002021
THE MILSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION$20,0002013
THE MILSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION$1,0002014
THE MILSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION$1,0002015
THE MILSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION$1,0002017
THE MILSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION$10,0002018
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$100,9002012
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$101,0002013
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$150,0002014
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$150,0002015
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$200,0002016
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$150,0002018
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$200,0002019
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$200,0002020
THE SHILLMAN FOUNDATION$150,0002021
JOYCE ROBINSON FOUNDATION$28,0002014
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$10,0002022
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$1,0002021
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$1,5002020
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$3,5002019
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$5,0002018
GARLYN & LAJUAN SHELTON CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION$5,0002017
TOTAL$2,733,900
Source: ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer

Robert Shillman, Cognex Corporation – Shillman Foundation

From 2012 to 2021, The Shillman Foundation contributed $1.4 million to CUFI. Robert Shillman, founder and trustee of Shillman Foundation, built his wealth as CEO of Cognex, a manufacturer of machine vision and barcode scanning softwares and sensors used in manufacturing automation. His foundation funds several rightwing and pro-Israel groups in the U.S., including the Zionist Organization of America. Shillman is also a former board member of the Friends of Israel Defense Forces and funder of the anti-Muslim hate group, David Horowtiz Freedom Center.

Miriam Adelson, Las Vegas Sands – Adelson Family Foundation

In 2020, the Adelson Family Foundation contributed $1.1 million to CUFI. The late billionaire Sheldon Adelson built an empire operating large casino resorts across the world through the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. His wife, Miriam Adelson (who, as of 2021, was a trustee of the family foundation), is estimated to be worth $32 billion. She is a close Trump ally and megadonor and is currently in line to buy the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. 
Adelson was a staunch supporter of Israel and instrumental in pushing the Republican party to embrace Israel. His foundation has spent hundreds of millions funding Birthright Israel, pushing anti-Muslim propaganda, and bankrolling a free daily newspaper referred to by critics as the “unofficial mouthpiece of Netanyahu.”

Bernie Marcus, Home Depot – Marcus Foundation

In both 2020 and 201, The Marcus Foundation contributed $60,000 to CUFI. Billionaire Bernie Marcus is the co-founder of Home Depot who served as the company’s first CEO and chairman until his retirement in 2002. Over the last 30 years, Marcus and his wife have donated more than $2 billion through the Marcus Foundation. Marcus is a Republican super donor, best known for his fervent support of Donald Trump
Marcus, who is worth $8.2 billion, is a prolific ring-wing donor, Trump ally, and union buster. He is also the founding president of the Israel Democracy Institute. This year, he gave $1 million to AIPAC’s United Democracy Project, which works to elect candidates who support Israel.

Garlyn Shelton – Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation

The Garlyn & Lajuan Shelton Christian Foundation has contributed to CUFI every year since 2017, donating $26,000 total from 2017 to 2022. Garlyn Shelton owns multiple car dealerships in Texas. According to their most recent 990 filing, the foundation contributes to numerous other anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, rightwing Christian organizations, including American Center of Law & Justice and Focus on the Family.

Adam Milstein, Hager Pacific Partners – Milstein Family Foundation

The Milstein Family Fund gave $33,000 to CUFI from 2013-2018. Adam Milstein is managing partner at the Newport, Beach-California based real estate investment firm Hager Pacific Partners. Milstein’s foundation has bankrolled AIPAC projects to shut down the BDS movement, and he personally came under fire after accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim-American women in Congress, of being “terrorist.” 

Joyce Robinson, Gathering Place Church – Joyce Robinson Foundation

In 2014, the Joyce Robinson Foundation contributed $28,000 to CUFI. Robinson is the founder and former pastor of Gathering Place Church in Florence, Kentucky.

Sander Gerber, Hudson Bay Capital – The Manhattan Charitable Foundation

The Manhattan Charitable Foundation donated $25,000 to CUFI in 2017. Sander Gerber is the CEO and founder of Hudson Bay Capital, a Connecticut-based hedge fund. He is the President of the Manhattan Charitable Foundation and served on the board of AIPAC from 2004 to 2016. In 2018, Gerber became a Distinguished Fellow of the Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, the research and advocacy arm of Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). JINSA funds a law enforcement exchange program that sends U.S. police officers to get trained by Israeli police and military. Under the guise of “counter-terrorism,” these programs create an exchange of some of the worst racial profiling and violent dissent suppression tactics in the world.

Christian Associations

Several Christian associations and ministries emerged as top donors to CUFI in our investigation. This included $310,443 from the Quad Cities Association of Evangelicals and Mississippi Valley Association of Evangelicals, who contribute to “assist in relocating Jews to Israel.” Christian Healthcare Ministries, which markets itself as a “health cost sharing ministry” that is an alternative to health insurance, gave $40,000 to CUFI in 2021.

CUFI Action Fund Lobbying Expenditures

The CUFI Action Fund, CUFI’s 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, is led by Hagee’s daughter, Sandra Hagee Parker. In 2022, CUFI Action Fund spent $240,000 lobbying the federal government on pro-Israel issues, according to analysis by OpenSecrets. Thus far in 2023, they have reported spending $180,000 in lobbying, supporting legislation that aims to increase weapons funding to Israel, decrease U.S. contributions to the United Nations, prohibit federal agencies from contracting with companies engaging in boycott of Israel, and sanction Iranian leaders. 

The CUFI Action Fund’s lobbying spending since 2016 can be seen in the chart below from OpenSecrets.

Source: OpenSecrets

Conclusion

Over the last several decades, John Hagee has utilized his platform to spread anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, and racist beliefs. Once considered a controversial figure, he is now actively embraced by Republican presidential nominees and has even shared a stage with high profile Democratic officials, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. While Hagee remains the figurehead for Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the organization is sustained by a deep network of donors financing and propping up the organization. Many of these wealthy donors and anonymous donor-advised funds have ties to anti-Muslim hate groups and a record of spewing Islamaphobic rhetoric. These contributions to CUFI have dangerously catapulted the hateful ideology of Christian Zionism from a fringe to a mainstream movement.