Senator Ted Cruz had a heck of an evening as keynote speaker at the In Defense of Christians summit’s “solidarity dinner” event last night in Washington. The Texas Republican was driven from the stage by hoots and catcalls, not something you hear everyday from the mouths of staid Middle East Christian bishops and eparchs. The Senator had been energetically scolding the audience for its spontaneous rejection of his demand that they stand by the state of Israel against Islamic extremism.
The crowd was surprised, and not pleasantly, by Sen. Cruz’s suggestion that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” Many in the audience, among them bishops and patriarchs from Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Jordan, apparently do not share Sen. Cruz’s unshakable confidence in the soundness of Israeli policy toward Palestinians and its engagement with the Arab world. Many have to maintain delicate relationships with Muslim neighbors in one of the most strife-ridden regions in the world today. The Senator’s apparent lack of sensitivity to such nuance quickly raised hackles, and hoots, among many in the crowd, but their ire reached a boiling point when he pressed the point home.
As the cat-calls and booing grew louder, Cruz persisted: “Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason.”
Toufic Baaklini, the president of In Defense of Christians, came to the stage to try to restore order, but audience members began to call out for Cruz to stop. He did so after tossing off a final provocation: “I will say this. I am saddened to see that some here, not everyone, but some here are so consumed with hate that you cannot…” and here is comments are drowned out by cat-calls. He continued: “I will say this: If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz said. “Good night, and God bless.” Senator Cruz then turned and walked off the stage to loud anti-applause.
A cynic might say that the Senator’s intended audience for such provocative comments was not exactly in attendance at the In Defense of Christians summit and it is hard to say what he practically means by the “I will not stand with you” comment. I have contacted the Senator’s office to get clarification on that but so far no response. Cruz's confrontation with the Middle East Christians has already been warmly received by some in the conservative media who are equating it with talking tough to Christian leaders who are allegedly too cozy with Palestinian groups in Gaza or the West bank or with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Far from attempting to soothe relations with the startled Middle Eastern Christian leaders, the Senator’s press office issued a statement which doubled down on his comments last night, describing the rejection of his apparently unscripted comments as an example of bigotry and anti-Semitism:
Last night’s event, Cruz said in the statement, “should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself 'In Defense of Christians.’ Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred.
“When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded. But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.
“They cannot shout down the truth. And we should not shy away from expressing the truth, even in the face of—especially in the face of—ignorance and bigotry.
Senator Cruz added, “I came to this event tonight to help shine a light on the tragic persecution and slaughter of Christians by ISIS and Islamic radicals throughout the Middle East. American leaders have been far too silent as to this horrific evil.
“But bigotry and hatred have no place in this discussion. Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”