Last week at the inaugural summit of the organization, In Defense of Christians, founded to help the most persecuted religious communities in the world today, Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world, Senator Ted Cruz was heckled and booed, and decided to walk off the stage.
This is how he began his speech:
"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."
All of 117 words -- about the killing of Christians -- later, Senator Cruz said the following:
"Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice. A humanitarian crisis. Christians are being systematically exterminated. In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state. Let me say this: those who hate Israel, hate America. And those who hate Jews, hate Christians. 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 -. 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 and behead children, are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason."
During that time, Cruz was interrupted by hecklers. Then, as reported by ABC News, "an apparent organizer [identified by some as IDC President Toufic Baaklini] took the stage to urge 'respect for dialogue. Respect, please. We are in America.' Audience members shouted at Cruz."
"I will say this, I am saddened to see that some here, not all, but some here, are so consumed with hate that they cannot [unintelligible]. I will say this, if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you, and God bless." Cruz then left the stage.
For the record, it sounded as if a small minority of those present disrupted the senator.
Ted Cruz's comments have been hailed as brave by some and as cynical political posturing by others, including pro-conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who wrote:
"If Cruz felt that he couldn't in good conscience address an audience of persecuted Arab Christians without including a florid, 'no greater ally' preamble about Israel, he could have withdrawn from the event. ... The fact that he [Cruz] was widely lauded says a lot about why, if 2,000 years of Christian history in the Middle East ends in blood and ash and exile, the American right no less than the left and center will deserve a share of responsibility for that fate."
I admire Ross Douthat, often cite his columns on my show, and recently shared a stage with him in Louisville, Kentucky. But whatever his view of the Ted Cruz speech, it is wrong to blame the American right as much as the left for the decimation of Christians in the Middle East. Virtually all the support that exists in America for Middle East Christians comes from conservatives (Jews as well as Christians), while the left is not only silent, it regularly attacks defenders of Middle East Christians as "Islamophobic." The left's rule on this matter is: You are allowed to lament the slaughter of Arab Christians, but you are not allowed to dwell on who is slaughtering them.
Was Ted Cruz irresponsibly engaged in a political "performance" as Douthat (and others) charge?
The Israel portion of his remarks are transcribed above, so readers can judge for themselves. They strike me as pretty accurate. And, having spent some time with the senator and, separately, with his father Rafael, a Christian pastor, I am certain that Ted Cruz believes every word he said.
If I had been asked to write the keynote address for Senator Cruz, I might have worded these truths a bit differently, and I would have suggested speaking about Israel toward the end of the speech, after gaining the trust of the audience.
This is what I would have suggested:
"I know that some of you are opposed to the State of Israel. And I know that for some of you, expressing anything other than radical hostility to Israel can get you arrested and perhaps even killed. Nevertheless, given that unlike many of you, I live in a country that provides complete freedom to members of every faith, I have no excuse for not telling you this truth as both a Christian and as a human being: Those who hate Israel and the Jews are enemies of Christ and of Christians. And, as difficult as it may be to hear after living a lifetime in a society immersed in Israel-hatred, Israel really is the Christians' best friend in the Middle East. I appreciate that, for reasons of self-preservation, some of you feel that you cannot say any of these things publicly in Lebanon or in Syria or elsewhere in the Arab world. But at least you need to understand all this. If you do not, you do not understand who threatens Christian survival in the Middle East."
So, I ask the critics of Ted Cruz: Had the Senator put it that way, would you still object? And if so, why?