(photo credit: Christian Coalition of America web site)
One in every three American tourists is an Evangelical Christian, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said Sunday.
"The Evangelical Christian community is a major pillar of the tourism industry in Israel, and they are true friends of Israel wherever they are," Herzog told The Jerusalem Post.
His comments came as nearly 5,000 Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel from around the world were in Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebrations.
The 27th annual event, which is sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, is expected to pump $15 million into the economy, in what has been billed as the single largest tourism event of the year.
Herzog said American Jews make up about 40 percent of the US tourism market, with Evangelical Christians a close second. He estimated that there was a "huge potential" in tourism from the Evangelical market, which could soon "clearly equal" the number of American Jews visiting.
There are an estimated 60 million Evangelical Christians in the US.
Herzog added that Tourism Ministry officials were also expecting a boom in Evangelical Christian tourism from Latin America and Europe.
He brushed aside criticism by some American Jewish leaders against the alliance between Israel and the Christian right in the US, asserting that pragmatism was needed in this case and adding that there was no need to be overly harsh with supporters of the state as long as they adhere to the law against proselytizing and steer clear of local politics.
"As radical extremist forces in the region call for the annihilation and eradication of the Jewish state, we should join forces with anyone that supports Israel," Herzog said.
During the peak of tourism in 2000, when 2.7 million people visited the country, two-thirds of the tourists were non-Jewish, he said.