Ted Cruz Tells Middle East Christians To “Stand With Israel”

From Tristyn Bloom at the Daily Caller:

Sen. Ted Cruz was booed offstage at a conference for Middle Eastern Christians Wednesday night after saying that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

…”If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he said. “Then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.” And with that, he walked off the stage.

The report also includes a short video.

Cruz was speaking at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner of In Defense of Christians, a new initiative to highlight the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East and Sudan. The organisation groups “Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories” together as “the Holy Land”; its president is a Lebanese businessman named Toufic Baaklini, and the Board of Advisors ranges from James Zogby through to John Ashcroft. According to Cruz’s own account:

“I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America,” Cruz said. “That those who hate Jews also hate Christians. And that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ. These statements were met with angry boos. I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel. And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike. Hate is hate, and murder is murder.”

Baaklini has now issued a statement about the disruption:

“As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles.  They were made no longer welcome…”

Prior to the event, the Washington Free Beacon had already drawn attention to “pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad speakers” billed to appear, also including quotes from Rai.

The fiasco brings into sharp relief some of the tensions around support for Christian minorities in the Middle East. For a large segment of US Christianity, support for Israel and philo-Semitism are now central to religious belief and activism: but these priorities reflect a particular ideological/political and cultural outlook that reflects American society today. But this is very different from the context of Christians living in traditional Middle Eastern societies,  particularly those belonging to local denominations and churches less connected with the West. Strands of historic Christian anti-Jewish discourse are less likely to have been expunged, and even where ancient religious prejudice against Jews is not an operative factor, there’s no reason why the automatic support for Israel we find with Christian Zionism would follow.

There’s also a more pertinent explanation for why Cruz’s speech was not well received; as the Daily Caller article (perhaps surprisingly) notes:

Many Christians in the Middle East take issue with Israeli military policy, which has made life for Palestinian Christians in their homeland very difficult, and driven many from their homes. “Israel’s policies have led to demographic pressure that’s made the West Bank and Gaza far more Muslim than in 1948,” explained one Middle East analyst.

I’m reminded of an incident from 2006, when Reps. Joseph Crowley and Michael McCaul withdrew a draft resolution on the plight of Palestinian Christians, rather than acknowledge Palestinian complaints about the occupation as a factor in their decline.

So who will Middle East Christians turn to, if Americans demand a form of Christian Zionism in return for solidarity? A 2013 report from Vatican Insider, describing “Russia’s ‘Protectorate’ over Middle East Christians“, has the obvious answer.

UPDATE: I’ve just come across an article in the Algemeiner by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile that appeared a couple of days ago; Van Zile draws attention to concerns from the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) that the conference will “promote support for Assad in Syria and normalization with the Mullahs in Iran”, and claims that a weak section on Iran was added to the IDC site only after CAMERA noted its absence. Further:

The conference has also attracted the attention and generated some criticism in a French language newspaper, L’Orient Le Jour. On August 28, the paper published an article asking if the summit was intended to promote the interests of Tehran and Damascus.

The paper reported that one of the backers of IDC’s conference was Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese businessman who was born in Nigeria and made his fortune in that country.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chagoury was close to Nigeria’s military dictator Sani Abacha, and that because of his association, Abacha, “helped him land lucrative business contracts in construction and other areas.” After Abacha’s death, Chagoury was forced to return $300 million to that country to unfreeze his bank accounts.

The article is headlined “Has Pro-Christian Conference Been Hijacked by Pro-Iran/Hezbollah Dhimmis?” The word “Dhimmi” here is of course polemical hyperbole, deployed to suggest that the participants are making choices due to internalized oppression or coercion.

UPDATE 2: Interesting commentary from Matt K. Lewis, drawing on Russ Douhat:

Douthat is suggesting that the crowd wasn’t booing Israel, instead, they were booing Cruz for playing politics — for having the audacity to lecture them about their own business.

Remember that Republican debate where the crowd booed a gay soldier? The optics were horrible, but here’s what I always suspected. I always suspected that they weren’t booing the soldier so much as they were booing the media for setting them up.

They were booing the media for the unseemly way they were using this soldier to advance the notion that conservatives are anti-gay. They were booing the media for focusing on this one wedge issue when there are so many important issues. They were booing the media for framing the debate when it should really be up to Republicans to select their nominee. They were booing because they were being used as a pawn — as a backdrop — to make a larger point (at their expense, no less).

2 Responses

  1. An example of the differing “context of Christians living in traditional Middle Eastern societies”. This from William Dalrymple’s survey of Christianity and its prospects in West Asia. At that time Syria was a refuge from neighbouring unrest:

    The Monastery of Mar Saba, Israeli-occupied West Bank, 24 October 1994
    the last of the ancient monasteries of the Holy Land to survive as a functioning community. […]
    Below us the monastic buildings of Mar Saba fell away in a ripple of chapels, cells and oratories, each successive layer hanging like a wasps’ nest from a ledge on the rockface. Opposite, the top of the cliff wall had turned an almost unnatural shade of red in the last of the evening light. The rock was pitted with caves, each formerly the cell of a Byzantine monk. All were now deserted.
    ‘It’s very beautiful,’ I said.
    ‘Beautiful?’ said Fr. Theophanes, rustling his robes in horror. ‘Beautiful? See down there at the bottom? The river? Nowadays it’s just the sewage from Jerusalem. But on Judgement Day that’s where the River of Blood is going to flow. It’s going to be full of Freemasons, whores and heretics: Protestants, Schismatics, Jews, Catholics … More ouzo?’
    From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East
    William Dalrymple

  2. Man, Robert, what’s happened to you?

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