Ted Cruz Exposes Christian Bigotry Against Jews In the Middle East
By Lee Smith/September 13, 2014
Cracks in what is normally represented as a tight alliance between Jews and Christians in Washington D.C. over Middle East issues were highlighted by Senator Ted Cruz’s dramatic and courageous performance Wednesday night as keynote speaker at the gala dinner for the In Defense of Christians conference. The gathering was assembled to address the plight of Middle Eastern Christians, who have been targeted by various extremist groups—with ISIS currently getting the lion’s share of media attention. Cruz kicked over a hornet’s nest when he encouraged his audience to see a potential ally in another Middle Eastern minority—Israeli Jews. After all, explained the likely 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, Christians and Jews in the region share many of the same enemies, from ISIS to Hamas. “The very same people who persecute and murder Christians,” said Cruz, “who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason.”
This was too much for the IDC audience, which evidently included a large number of anti-Zionists—including featured speaker Antioch Church patriarch Gregory III Laham, who in this video of Wednesday’s event can be seen demanding that Cruz leave the event. Eventually the Texas Senator did leave the stage amidst a deafening chorus of boos.
If many commentators saw Cruz’s speech as a courageous expose of anti-Israel prejudice—and perhaps anti-Semitism—among Middle Eastern Christians, others are apoplectic. The noise is especially loud from those precincts of the Christian right not affiliated with the pro-Israel majority of evangelical movement. These Christians—including New York Times columnist Ross Douthat—think that Cruz seized on an opportunity to show off for political purposes at the expense of an imperiled minority. “Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians,” Douthat tweeted. “Too religious for the left, too foreign for the right, insufficiently pro-Israel for Ted Cruz.”
The conference, explained the American Conservative, “was organized to bring together Christians of every sect and denomination to stand in solidarity with their persecuted brethren. Ted Cruz, however, fractured that unity.”
It’s not clear why anyone thinks that “unity” and “solidarity” are particularly useful concepts when discussing a faith that has lots of denominations, some of which have famously gone to war with each other. The big divide between Christians in the Levant right now is not between denominations—Catholic vs Orthodox, for instance—but rather between those who stand for freedom and equality, and those who side with tyrants who they believe will protect them from what they see as the even more terrifying specter of groups like ISIS. The organizers and speakers at the In Defense of Christians event are correct that ISIS and other Islamic extremist groups pose an existential threat to Middle Eastern minorities. However, a number of the speakers invited to the conference, as well as some of its financial backers, support figures and outfits every bit as vicious and dangerous as ISIS.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported Wednesday, one featured speaker, Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, posted pictures of himself on Facebook meeting with a high-level delegation from Hezbollah. Other speakers, like Patriarch John X (Yazigi), Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, and Patriarch Gregory III Laham (pictured in the YouTube video above) are proud supporters of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent people in its war against Sunni Arabs. Sure Assad has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, dropped bombs on them, while his forces have tortured, raped and massacred men, women and children, but from the perspective of pro-Assad Christians, his violence is justifiable insofar as he is believed to be a protector of Christians.
Of course, anyone who is familiar with the Syrian regime knows this is nonsense. I lived in Beirut during one of Bashar al-Assad’s anti-Christian campaigns, when his spies and allies assassinated Christian politicians and journalists and bombed Christian-majority regions of Lebanon. It’s right to sympathize with and seek to help Middle East Christians who fear for their lives, families and communities. But there is no reason for Americans to call pro-Assad, pro-Hezbollah Christians friends just because they nominally share the same faith. Christians who stand against political violence and oppression—like their Sunni, Shiite, Druze, etc. neighbors—merit our friendship not for the faith they profess but for the values they embody. It is hard to see how Christians who support criminals and thugs who murder innocent people in barbaric ways by the tens of thousands are being faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ anymore than the barbarians of ISIS should merit the fealty of believing Muslims.
My sources tell me that once Cruz was briefed about some of the IDC’s speakers and backers, he initially chose to withdraw from the conference, but then decided to go ahead and speak. Whether he knew what kind of effect his pro-Israel talk would have on the crowd is irrelevant. Its outraged protestations showed that too many members of the Middle Eastern Christian community are as intolerant as those from whom they seek protection. Much more depressing, however, is that Cruz’s talk also showed how even some educated Christians in the U.S.—eager to jump to the defense of those who profess the indefensible—are absorbing the very worst aspects of Middle East political discourse.
Why Ted Cruz Was Right to Walk Out on the ‘In Defense of Christians’ Conference
by Katie Gorka 12 Sep 2014
An extraordinary thing happened on Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. More than one thousand people were gathered for a dinner in honor of the newly formed organization In Defense of Christians.
It should have been a victorious, celebratory moment―and for a short time it was.
The spirit was jubilant as we all took in the fact that at last the crisis affecting Middle East Christians had hit the mainstream. Many of us have been toiling away for years on this issue, happy if we could get ten people in a room to hear our case. Here we were, with Patriarchs and prelates from 12 different countries, and earlier in the day no less than 17 different members of Congress had addressed the gathering. It was an evening to celebrate.
Then U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) came on stage. He was there to give the keynote speech, and this was to be the crowning moment. Senator Cruz opened with these words:
Good evening. Today we are gathered at a time of extraordinary challenge. Tonight we are all united in defense of Christians. Tonight we are all united in defense of Jews. Tonight we are all united in defense of people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings.
“Oh no,” someone said quietly at my table. “Don’t go there, Cruz.”
Lebanon and Israel have been engaged in a long-standing conflict, so to mention Jews was to step on an obvious land mine. More than that, word had gone out several months before that the funders of the event were associated with Hezbollah. At first, it was just word of mouth based on sources inside Lebanon.
Then a Syrian-American activist named Frank Ghadry wrote about it, but he subsequently retracted his article and almost all traces of it have been deleted from the web. But you can read it here on Facebook.
Within the NGO community, concerns were expressed about the Hezbollah rumors, but when the Ghadry article was retracted, it seemed these might be just rumors after all.
Cruz’s speech seemed a consummate effort to flush out the true nature of the organizers and their guests. He went on:
Religious bigotry is a cancer with many manifestations. ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.
Sometimes we are told not to lump these groups together, that we have to understand their so-called nuances and differences.
But we shouldn’t try to parse different manifestations of evil that are on murderous rampage through the region. Hate is hate and murder is murder.
The grumbling from other tables now became audible, and it was not long before the murmurs and fidgeting erupted into boos and outright heckling.
“Stop it. Stop it,” Someone shouted.
Cruz pushed on: “Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America.”
“No,” someone shouted back.
Cruz said, “And those who hate Jews hate Christians.”
At this, a number of people in the audience booed in unison.
“And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals who seek to murder them.”
Several members of the audience then walked out of the room to scattered applause, including Antoine Chedid, the Ambassador of Lebanon to the United States, and several Lebanese politicians, a fact which was confirmed by the Daily Star of Lebanon.
Cruz only lasted a minute or two longer before cutting short his speech and walking out with the words: “if you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you and God bless you.”
As soon as Cruz left the stage, the room burst into conversation about the spectacle we had all just witnessed. Some seated at my table said that Cruz had been badly misinformed by his staff about the nature of the event and that someone should be fired.
But what I discovered the next day is that Cruz had known exactly what he was doing. Indeed, he had read the article that had been published about the event just that day and which essentially repeated Frank Ghadry’s allegation that the conference organizers were close to Hezbollah.
Whether Cruz ever contemplated withdrawing from the event is not certain, but what is clear is that he was keenly aware of the alleged links between the organizers of the event and Hezbollah, and he was not going to let that go untested.
Many have criticized Cruz since the event, saying he should have known the audience better or that he was grandstanding. But his actions on Wednesday evening reminded me of the line from the recent New Yorker article about Cruz: “That is the kind of politician Cruz has become―one who came to Washington not to make a deal but to make a point.”
The point he made is two-fold: even in as worthy a cause as defending Christians from extinction in the Middle East, we cannot compromise our fundamental commitment as Americans to the right of all people to live free from persecution and free from the subjugation by totalitarian, supremacist ideologies, such as that espoused by Hezbollah.
The decision by In Defense of Christians to accept the largesse and support of individuals who are widely believed to be associated with Hezbollah was thus a moral failing, but it was a tactical one as well. Any good strategist knows that you cannot enter battle with chinks in your armor. To enter the fray in as serious a fight as that between ISIS and Christianity, one must be invulnerable. To enter into this fight with such an easily identified shortcoming not only hurt the broader cause of protecting Christians, but it hurt all those who have been working for years, often on meager salaries and with little support, to shed light on the plight of Christians. It fed right into the enemy’s hands.
St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, tells us that engaging in spiritual warfare—and what is the war between Christians and the likes of ISIS if not spiritual battle?—that we must be fully prepared. We must put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:11). We must gird our waists with truth, and put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14).
Ted Cruz clearly is prepared to fight for the Christian cause but is not prepared to do so in ways that support unchristian values. He should be cheered and not heckled for doing so.