Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lavished praise on the Evangelical Christian movement, and on a mission of approximately 800 members of Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) organization, in Jerusalem on Sunday night.

“Thank you for standing up for Israel,” Netanyahu said to rapturous applause. “We are witnessing a dramatic transformation in the relationship between Christians and Jews, who are focusing now on the common values and the common future we both share.”

The prime minister also drew attention to what he described as threats to the Christian community across the Middle East, saying he was “proud that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to practice their faith in complete freedom.”

The CUFI mission – on its third visit to Israel – gave Netanyahu a euphoric welcome.

The evening was accompanied by the mellifluous sounds of a Southern gospel quartet and a glowing tribute from Hagee himself, who announced that his organization had reached one million members, making it the largest pro-Israel organization in the US.

Participants on the current mission paid almost $4,400 each to come on the tour.

Founded in 2006, CUFI is designed to provide a national association in the US for pro- Israel churches to support the country. It uses its members to mobilize support and lobby public officials and representatives to advance favorable public policy and sentiment for Israel.

Referring to the Iranian nuclear program, CUFI executive- director David Brog said that supporting Israel was of special importance for Christians at this time.

“At a juncture of such peril for Israel and the West, we are proud that we now have one million members working diligently for a strong US-Israel relationship,” Brog said. “We were gratified to be able to demonstrate our rock-solid support to Prime Minister Netanyahu tonight.”

Brog also sought to dispel concerns about negative theological motivations attributed by some to the Evangelical movement. He labeled the claim that Evangelicals support Israel in order to herald the return of Jesus and the conversion of Jews as “complete and utter nonsense,” and said such claims were based on “ignorance.”

Christians, he said, do not believe that anything on Earth can influence the messiah’s coming and that his arrival will be at a preordained time.

Instead, he said, Evangelicals support Israel because of a literalist interpretation of the Bible that views the promises made to the people of Israel as still intact – as opposed to ”Replacement Theology,” which is widely held by many other Christian denominations and posits that the Christian Church inherited the biblical promises to the Jewish people.

Brog added that this sentiment was combined with the belief that Israel’s cause was just, as well as a sense of indebtedness to the Jewish people in the wake of historic Christian anti-Semitism and persecution.

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