WASHINGTON (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the growth of Christian support for Israel is a sign of the "changing" relationship between the two religious groups.
"For centuries, the relationship between Christians and Jews was marked by conflict rather than partnership and friendship," the Israeli leader said in a speech via satellite to the Christians United for Israel conference in Washington. "But this is changing. A new chapter in the relationship between us is now being written.
"Today millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for freedom, millions of Christians stand with Israel because they stand for truth, millions of Christians stand with Israel because they want to see a genuine peace in the Holy Land," said Netanyahu, who received a thunderous standing ovation when he appeared initially on the video screen.
Welcoming the prime minister, CUFI founder and chairman Pastor John Hagee told him that "50 million Christians" support "Israel’s sovereign right to grow and develop the settlements of Israel as you see fit and not yield to the presssure of the United States government."
Netanyahu did not mention settlements or the conflict over the issue with the Obama administration during his 10-minute talk. In addition to thanking Christians for their backing of Israel and encouraging them to visit the Jewish state, he reiterated that "Palestinians must recognize the right of the Jewish people to our own state."
Netanyahu spoke after a panel discussion that included U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.); Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and Asaf Shariv, Israeli counsel general in New York.
Berkley harshly criticized the Obama administration for making an issue of settlements, calling it "foolhardy" and stating that to "publicly dress down the State of Israel" over settlements was "a huge mistake."
Shariv said that "Jerusalem is not a settlement" and Israel "will continue building buildings in Jerusalem," an apparent reference over a U.S. request last week to halt construction of 20 houses in eastern Jerusalem.