Netanyahu faces warning from top Christian leader

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to show up at a key gathering of Evangelicals.

ICEJ President Dr. Juergen Buehler speaking Sunday night at the opening of the sixth Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, hosted by the Israel Government Press Office. (photo credit: COURTESY ICEJ)
ICEJ President Dr. Juergen Buehler speaking Sunday night at the opening of the sixth Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, hosted by the Israel Government Press Office.
(photo credit: COURTESY ICEJ)

The leader of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), Dr. Juergen Buehler, cautioned incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that Evangelical Christians are “a little bit concerned about some of the coalition partners that are coming into the government,” who have made negative statements about Christians in the past.

“We hope that Mr. Netanyahu is using his full influence so that this coming legislative period will not be about building new contentions or building new walls, but a time where Jewish-Christian partnerships and relationships will grow from strength to strength,” Buehler said in a speech at the Christian Media Summit, hosted by the Government Press Office.

Buehler’s surprising rebuke was referring to past actions of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) head Itamar Ben-Gvir, who defended Bentzi Gopstein, the head of the radical anti-assimilation group Lehava after he led violent protests against Christian and Messianic events and also once said that Israel should expel all of its Christian citizens.

Moreover, Ben-Gvir, a lawyer, defended the man convicted of setting fire to the Church of the Loaves and Fishes in 2015.

The Christian journalists are set to meet with Ben-Gvir at the Knesset on Wednesday.

Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir prior to his entry into politics can be seen speaking Israeli attorney Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir prior to his entry into politics can be seen speaking Israeli attorney Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a ceremony marking the 27th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Meir Kahane, November 7, 2017 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Netanyahu's relationship with US Evangelicals

“True friends applaud you when you do right and caution you when you do wrong.”

Rabbi David Rosen, International Director of Interreligious Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Netanyahu has had a long-standing and close relationship with America’s estimated 60 million Evangelicals, who have not only supported the incoming prime minister but compared him to Moses and King David.

In 2017, at a Christians United for Israel conference, Netanyahu told Evangelicals that they were Israel’s best friends in the world.

“When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us,” Netanyahu said in a video address.

Rabbi David Rosen, American Jewish Committee International Director of Interreligious Affairs, defended Buehler’s statement and said that true support includes offering warning where there are signs that Israel might not be going in the right direction.

“True friends applaud you when you do right and caution you when you do wrong,” Rosen said.

Buehler also used his speech to call on American Evangelicals to stand up against former US President Donald Trump’s meetings with antisemitic influencers, including Kanye West and Nicholas J. Fuentes.

“To my American friends, I want to make one remark: We need your support here in Israel,” Buehler told the crowd. “America is the most strategic partner - and in particular the Evangelical community - for Israel. Please talk to your possibly future president, Mr. Trump, [and tell him] to distance himself from those very unhappy statements of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes.

“It is important for the Evangelical community, not only in your country but around the world, to get a clear statement in regards to that,” Buehler added.

The sixth annual Christian Media Summit, which this year brings together around 180 Christian reporters and influencers from around the world in Israel for four days, kicked off Sunday night at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel. This is the first in-person Christian Media Summit since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors arrived from close to 30 countries, including Kenya, Poland, India, Nepal. Netanyahu was slated to address the audience on Sunday night, as well, but pulled out last minute citing coalition negotiations.