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JERUSALEM – At the opening night of a major summit for Evangelical media Sunday, a top Christian leader offered stern words of caution for incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition he is attempting to form.
Speaking to roughly 180 Christian reporters and influencers attending a sixth annual Christian Media Summit sponsored by the Israeli government, Buehler said Christians are “a little bit concerned about some of the coalition partners that are coming into the government” who have said “some not nice things about Christians in the past.”
Buehler leads the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ), which, according to its website, is dedicated to fostering Christian support for Israel throughout the world and sponsors various humanitarian and missionary initiatives.
His remarks were reportedly made in reference to actions and statements by rightwing politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of Israel’s far-right Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party.
In the past, Ben-Gvir defended the head of the radical anti-assimilation group Lehava, Bentzi Gopstein, who, according to the Jerusalem Post, has led violent protests against both Christian and Messianic events, and who once said Israel should expel its entire Christian population.
A lawyer, Ben-Gvir in 2015 also defended a man convicted of arson for setting fire to the Roman Catholic Church of Loaves and Fishes, called the “Church of the Multiplication,” at Tabgha, along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
In his remarks Sunday, Buehler voiced hope that 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.”
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, emerged victorious in last month’s elections and is expected to form the country’s most right-wing government to date.
He was scheduled to give a keynote address at the Christian Media Summit Sunday night but failed to show up, reportedly due to meetings related to forming his new coalition.
Netanyahu generally enjoys strong relations with American Evangelicals, saying in a video message to a 2017 Christians United for Israel that they were among the country’s strongest allays.
“When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us,” he said.
Hosted by the Government Press Office, the Christian Media Summit runs Dec. 11-14 and includes panel discussions on issues of national interest, including the war in Ukraine and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as visits to the Knesset and the border with Gaza.
It is the first time the annual conference has been held since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and has drawn representatives from some 30 countries around the world.
In his remarks, Buehler said he believes that Jews and Christians can partner together in forming a better world. He also urged US Evangelicals to call out former President Donald Trump for holding meetings with famous influencers such as Kayne West and Nicholas Fuentes, who have made antisemitic remarks.
“To my American friends, I want to make one remark: We need your support here in Israel,” he said, calling the United States “the most strategic partner – and in particular the Evangelical community – for Israel.”
“Please talk to your possibly future president, Mr. Trump, [telling him] to distance himself from those very unhappy statements of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes,” Buehler said, saying it is important for the Evangelical community around the world “to get a clear statement in regards to that.”