Netanyahu: Evangelical Christians are Israel’s best friends
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Netanyahu: Evangelical Christians are Israel’s best friends

In address to CUFI, PM makes no mention of Trump but takes a dig at White House decision to leave US embassy in Tel Aviv

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a joint press conference with France's President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE MAHE)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a joint press conference with France's President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE MAHE)

WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Christian evangelical audience in Washington on Monday that they were Israel’s best friends in the world, in an address notable for the pointed absence of any reference to US President Donald Trump or his administration’s efforts in the region.

“When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us,” Netanyahu told the cheering crowd at Christians United for Israel’s annual conference. “You stand with us because you stand with yourselves because we represent that common heritage of freedom that goes back thousands of years.”

“America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America,” Netanyahu continued. “And Israel has no better friend in America than you.”

Speaking via video to an enthusiastic audience that sprang to its feet as the prime minister’s image appeared on giant screens, Netanyahu described Israel and America as “engaged in a great struggle.”

“It’s a struggle of civilizations. It’s a struggle of free societies against the forces of militant Islam,” Netanyahu argued. “They want to conquer the Middle East, they want to destroy the State of Israel, and then they want to conquer the world.”

“People often make a mistake in conventional discussions when they used to say that militant Islamists hate the west because of Israel. Its actually the other way around,” he continued. “They hate Israel because of the west – because we represent a free society built on the foundation of Judeo-Christian heritage. This is the society they despise so much.”

Hamas terrorists in Gaza pose on anniversary of prisoner exchange deal for Gilad Shalit. October 18, 2012 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Hamas terrorists in Gaza pose on anniversary of prisoner exchange deal for Gilad Shalit. October 18, 2012 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Israel, the prime minister told the cheering crowd, “is the bulwark of freedom in heart of the Middle East.”

For much of his comments, the prime minister reflected upon what he described as shared values between American evangelicals and Israel.

“Israel represents everything that you represent in the most dangerous and volatile place in the Middle East. There is one society, one government, one army that guarantees your values – our values,” he stressed.

While Netanyahu’s affirmation of evangelical support was unqualified, he did not make a single reference to Trump in his address.

He did, however, stress the importance of moving international embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a pointed comment less than two months after Trump renewed a six-month waiver keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv.

“Tel Aviv is a wonderful city, but it’s not Jerusalem,” he quipped. “The capital of Israel is Jerusalem and the embassy should be in Jerusalem.”

Pastor John Hagee at 2014 CUFI Summit (courtesy)
Pastor John Hagee at 2014 CUFI Summit (courtesy)

Christians United for Israel campaigned for the embassy move prior to the June deadline, and its leader, Pastor Jim Hagee, warned that it was an important issue for his over three million followers.

Netanyahu emphasized that beyond shared values, Israel guaranteed Christian practice in the region. “Since Israel liberated Jerusalem we have ensured the freedom of access to all faiths,” Netanyahu told the Christian group. “It is only under Israeli sovereignty that we ensure that what has happened at other holy sites in the Middle East will not happen to the holy sites under the sovereignty and control of the State of Israel.”

“The only place where you have religious freedom guaranteed is Israel,” Netanyahu added. “The only place where Christian communities in the Middle East thrive, they grow, not only survive but they have a future. That place is Israel, because Israel guarantees religious freedom. Israel represents the freedom that we all cherish.”

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