Netanyahu tells Christian evangelicals they are Israel's best friends in the world

ReutersIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 7, 2017. He has addressed the group Christians United for Israel via video in Washington.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday told the annual conference of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that Christian evangelicals were Israel's best friends in the world.

In a video address to the Washington gathering that was notable for the pointed absence of any reference to President Donald Trump or his administration's efforts in the region, Netanyahu said: 'When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you've always stood with us.'

According to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu was cheered when the image of his face appeared on screen and again when he told the crowd: 'You stand with us because you stand with yourselves because we represent that common heritage of freedom that goes back thousands of years.'

He added: 'America has no better friend than Israel and Israel has no better friend than America. And Israel has no better friend in America than you.'

Netanyahu was speaking to CUFI on the same day that Mike Pence told the same audience that God had a hand in creating the state of Israel and promised that Trump's administration would make good on its promise to move the US embassy from Tel aviv to Jerusalem.

For his part, Netanyahu made it clear that he wanted and expected the move to be made. '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.'

CUFI had campaigned for the embassy move prior to Trump delaying the decision in June, and the group's leader, the controversial pastor Jim Hagee, warned that it was an important issue for his three million supporters.

Netanyahu also spoke of Israel and the US being engaged in a major 'struggle' against 'militant Islam'. He said: 'It's a struggle of civilizations. It's a struggle of free societies against the forces of militant Islam. They want to conquer the Middle East, they want to destroy the State of Israel, and then they want to conquer the world.'

He added: '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.'

Israel, he said, 'is the bulwark of freedom in the heart of the Middle East.'

The Prime Minister went on: '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 also emphasised the protection of worshipping rights in Israel, including for Christians. 'Since Israel liberated Jerusalem we have ensured the freedom of access to all faiths,' Netanyahu told the 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. 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.'

Netanyahu's address came on the same day that he met the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who told him: 'We will never surrender to the messages of hate - we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism.'

Macron was speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D'Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps by the then French government in July 1942 – with fewer than 100 of those detained surviving.