The president of the Christian organization who hosted Sen. Ted Cruz at its summit has partially blamed the senator for walking off the stage after being heckled and booed by some in the crowd during his speech.
In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini, in a statement released Thursday evening, said that while the hecklers were out of line, Cruz’s actions were “unfortunate” and detracted from the event…
“Sen. Cruz chose to stand against the small and vocal minority of attendees who disagree with his views on Israel rather than standing with the vast majority of those who attended the gala and support both Israel and the Middle East’s Christians,” Baaklini said in a lengthy statement…
“Sen. Cruz abruptly ended his remarks accusing some participants of being ‘consumed with hate,’” Baaklini said, in reference to a comment the senator made moments before he left the stage without finishing his speech. “That was as unfortunate as the inappropriate reaction by a small number of attendees.”
At first glance, this looks like a smart political move on Cruz’s part. Standing up for Israel is a pretty big deal to many grassroots conservatives. (OK, for many conservatives in general, really, as well those on the left who support Israel.)…
But here’s the glitch for Cruz: Not all the reaction on the right has been positive. Cruz himself is something of an unpredictable force within the GOP, so some of the negative feelings probably come from establishment Republicans who feel that he’s trying to usurp their party.
Right-leaning New York Times commentator Ross Douthat described Cruz’s comments as “risible.” The Texas senator cynically stepped on the hopes of a beleaguered minority just so he could look like a big man, in Mr. Douthat’s view. It’s likely Cruz knew exactly what he was doing when he brought up Israel in front of the Middle East Christian crowd, according to the commentator.
[GOP Rep. Charlie] Dent, whose district has a large population of Americans of Syrian and Lebanese descent, said he sympathized with those who were unhappy with Cruz, and wondered if the senator’s intent was to inflame the audience in order to gain traction with tea party activists ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run.
“I support Israel, but what Senator Cruz did was outrageous and incendiary,” Dent said. “He showed a true lack of sensitivity for the people he was speaking to, especially the religious leaders who were there. It was a political speech, inappropriate and, overall, an uncomfortable moment.”…
“He was speaking to people outside of the building,” Dent said. “It was a willful and deliberate confrontation, and very self-serving.”
Democrats might also seek to capitalize on Cruz’s statement. Michael Wear, a strategist who led White House evangelical outreach during President Obama’s first term, said that Republican “voters will be looking for a candidate who can support Israel without demeaning an audience gathered to defend persecuted religious groups, a cause Senator Cruz has now distracted from in order to defend himself.”
Catherine Frazier, a Cruz spokeswoman, told the Beast that the senator will continue to speak out on behalf of religious minorities everywhere, and has made a point of bringing public attention to persecuted Christians in particular…
In the meantime, however, Cruz’s remarks appear to have at least temporarily shattered Christian solidarity on the issue of persecuted Christian minorities.
“Fighting persecution of Christians is a unifying message among voters, particularly on the right,” Hemingway said. “For better or worse, Cruz’s political speech may have broken that unity.”
Given his comments, and his response to the people who reacted by booing, it appears Cruz has no meaningful exposure to the actual experience of Middle Eastern Christians, nor does it seem he is even aware that there are millions of Middle Eastern Christians (and Jews, for that matter) who are strongly opposed to the official political and military policies of the modern state of Israel.
The phrase that ignited the disagreement is particularly telling: “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”
What kind of worldview or theological bias would allow for such a statement? Only one that presumes there is a definite conformity between the needs and desires of Christians everywhere and the Middle East policy of the United States of America. It seems to me, in other words, that when Ted Cruz says “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” he really means that “America has no greater ally than Israel” — and that the subjects of those two sentences are identical in his mind.
[H]opefully we can all recognize the importance of dealing with this huge problem of Christians being killed and oppressed even if our politics aren’t all the same, right? Perhaps especially if our politics aren’t aligned?
Maybe not. When Cruz was supposed to give the keynote address and discuss the deadly serious topic of persecution of Christians, he instead insulted a largely immigrant and foreign crowd as a group that didn’t understand their own political situation and stomped out of the room after calling them a bunch of haters…
The fact is, as Mark Tooley explains in a very thoughtful and balanced piece, that Christians who are persecuted have political views that may not align with U.S. interests. Who knew? For many of us, our concern about genocide of Christians isn’t limited to those who are perfectly aligned with our views. Someone will have to explain to me how positioning Cruz and the Free Beacon this way — as the go-to group for missing the point on Christian persecution — is a good thing for either of them or the military solutions they seek.
Five Christian patriarchs of persecuted Christian peoples came to the United States to meet and to talk about what their people are suffering, and these right-wing jackals, including Sen. Cruz, jumped them and tried to trash and exploit them for American political purposes…
To be clear, many Middle Eastern Christians say and believe crazy and/or appalling things, especially about Jews and Israelis. I’ve heard them with my own ears. Some of it is based in plausible truth; much of it is based in hate and conspiracy theory. I can’t defend it and wouldn’t dream of defending it. That said, Ted Cruz coming into this particular conference and using it as an opportunity to lecture these imperiled people on their moral and political failings vis-a-vis Israel would be like going to a conference of New Orleans religious leaders a month after Katrina and lecturing them on how the Bush administration is the best friend they could have. Even if it were true, it would have been extremely insensitive and obnoxious to do such a thing. Do we expect suffering and endangered people to pass a political, cultural, or religious litmus test before we deem them worthy of our help? If a man is standing on the roof of his house that is underwater in a flood, and you are standing in a rescue boat, you don’t tell him how he ought to think about politics and expect him to agree as a condition of saving his life.
To look upon the displacement of over a million Christians, to listen to the death rattle of Christianity in the Middle East, and complain that they didn’t flatter a country that offers them no material assistance is, frankly, the reaction of a sociopath.
The political movement to get Americans to care about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians was a fragile one. This was always a difficult task for the reasons French philosopher Régis Debray outlines; the victims are too religious to excite the left and too foreign to excite the right. And by exploiting his credibility among conservative Evangelicals, Ted Cruz’s calumnious goading and showboating at this conference gave this movement a political decapitation, telling conservatives that it’s perfectly ok to ignore these people.
The Washington Free Beacon, which sensationalized the video, is also responsible. As is the prominent columnist of one of America’s most influential neoconservative periodicals. It won’t be forgotten.
This is speculation, but perhaps Cruz, who is a Southern Baptist and whose father is a fundamentalist Baptist preacher, was subtly pandering to a segment of fundamentalist Christians who do not believe that Middle East Christians are “real” Christians. To a serious undercurrent of American Fundamentalism, the Catholic Church is the Antichrist that has been oppressing the “true” Church for millennia, and anything that looks vaguely Catholic, with ordained priests and ornate liturgies, is equally evil. Of course, this is hokum: Middle East Christians were Christians (with their priests and liturgies and incense and icons) for 1,800 years before the Fundamentalists invented their revisionist history.
This much, however, is absolutely clear: Cruz tarred and attacked one of the most powerless and beleaguered minorities in the world, solely for personal political gain. He was speaking truth to the powerless. He was strong against the weak.
In the end, what was most striking about Cruz’s tirade was the last phrase: “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” Cruz was literally standing in a room with his fellow Christians. In the Bible, the idea of the fellowship of Christian believers is a very important one, and to break fellowship is to put oneself outside the community. What Cruz was saying was that agreeing to his views on Israel was more important as a badge of fellowship than believing in Jesus Christ.
No, Israel’s not going to drop commandos in to rescue the Coptic or send an airlift for the Assyrians– any more than the United States can or would. (Though, sometimes, I wonder why.) But in the Middle East, secularism is far less dangerous to Christians than theocracy. Assad, then, might be a better option than ISIS, but Israel is better option than any of them. Because, generally speaking, Israel shares the same enemies, the same broader geopolitical aims and the same moral outlook. Which, today, makes it the only nation to ally with Christians in the Middle East…
The decimation of Middle Eastern Christians isn’t new. It’s long-term project reminiscent of the destruction Middle East Jewry– which began when over 750,000 Jews were driven out or left the Middle Eastern countries not named Israel beginning the late 1940s. This round of forced conversions, beheadings, bombings, church burnings and massacres is merely a mop-up operation. Around 20 percent of the Middle East’s population a century ago, the Christian population makes up around four percent today. There’s no polling I could find on the topic, but is there any doubt that the only nation whose population feels any empathy for this suffering is in Israel?…
Contending that Jews are part of the same fight is hardly risible. And if Arab Christians of the IDC aren’t offended by the thought of allying themselves with Hezbollah to fight ISIS, how could they be so horribly insulted to hear that Israel is their partner, as well? How could someone like Charlie Dent claim that making this association is “outrageous” and “incendiary?” At the very most, it is harmless, even if Cruz was wrong. But, as one of my Twitter followers asked, if you believe there’s a “greater ally” in the Middle East name it.
I do not personally see circumstances in which it would be appropriate to boo the remark “Those who hate Israel, hate the United States”—which is, incidentally, a valid generalization. Some in the crowd did boo that comment. (Audio here, as is a slightly inaccurate transcript.) Or to boo after “those who hate Jews, hate Christians.” Or after the observation that people who behead Jews as infidels do the same to Christians…
When Cruz said he would not “stand with” the booers, he was obviously making a political rather than a theological statement, and obviously not saying that he would refuse to speak up for persecuted Christians who disagree with him about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was saying that people who hate Jews, or are indifferent to their persecution, aren’t his allies.
Perhaps it was unwise for Cruz to mention Israel at this conference. Or perhaps it made sense to remind people that the principle of religious freedom and tolerance should apply to everyone, and needs the defense of everyone. (Especially given that he would have read or been told that some people associated with the rally were soft on Hezbollah.) Even if he should have steered clear of the issue, though, his reaction to the booing seems to me justifiable–and the attacks on him much too heated.
Via Becket Adams.