American Evangelical pastor John Hagee - who heads the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the United States - half jokingly compared Benjamin Netanyahu to the Messiah on Sunday night, as he waited for the delayed prime minister to arrive at a Jerusalem hotel to address the crowd.
"There's a saying in Judaism about the Messiah - I know that even if he tarries, he'll come," Hagee told hundreds of members of Christians United for Israel. "I know that the prime minister will come, and even if he tarries, he'll come."
The crowd laughed, and so did Hagee. But as Hagee introduced Netanyahu when he finally arrived half an hour later, the comparison with the Messiah no longer seemed so far-fetched.
"He was a fighter in an elite unit and helped free the hostages on the Sabena, and fought in the Yom Kippur War," Hagee began. "As finance minister, he brought Israel from welfare to work [applause]. He strengthened the private sector and cut down the public sector. He's married to Sara, and his son Jonathan [sic] is a national Bible champion [applause]. He gets up every morning at six to study the Bible with his son [wild applause]...
"He also changed the path of Christianity in America, when he asked me in 2006 if he thought American Christians could unite for Israel," Hagee continued. "Ancient Israel had Moses who led them in the desert; during the golden era they had King David, who conquered Jerusalem, and today, when there are existential threats, Israel has a champion who can confront the challenge; please welcome the prime minister...[more wild applause, whistles, and the sound of a shofar from somewhere]."
Netanyahu immediately corrected two of Hagee's errors; his son the Bible champion's name is Avner, and he reads the Bible on Shabbat, after lunch. He then segued into the story of the sin of King David, when he sent Uriah the Hittite off to war so he could have his wife, Batsheva. The allegory of the poor man and his lamb, delivered as a reprimand to David, is cited by Netanyahu as an example of how all people are equal before the law, including Israel's Arab population.
"I'm proud that in Israel Muslims are free to practice their religion," said Netanyahu, to more wild applause. "At a time when Christians are under siege in so many places and so many lands, Christians are free to practice their faith," in Israel. More rousing applause.
And of course, there was Iran.
"When Iran is funding terror and violence all over the world and is calling for our annihilation, I don't have to explain to you why that regime can't have nuclear weapons," he said. "Our enemies don't hate us because of what we do, but because of who we are."
Netanyahu's speech was the high point of the conference of Christians United for Israel, which recently reached one million members. The conference in Jerusalem drew hundreds of people, primarily Americans, mostly on the older side, with some of the men wearing cowboy hats.
Before Netanyahu's arrival, as singer Dudu Fischer got on stage to sing "Am Yisrael Hai" to a techno beat, the crowd joined in with religious fervor. One woman fell emotionally to her knees, as if in prayer, while two others closed their eyes tightly and at the second verse began to cry, as did others in the hotel ballroom.
"The bad news is that numbers count, and we are a small people," Netanyahu told the crowd. "The good news is that Israel is not alone - it has your support. It's true, numbers count, but so do you!"
"He's amazing," an enthusiastic participant told a reporter. "And he's right in everything he says."
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