Last night Ted Cruz stood up to offer the keynote address to a room full of Middle Eastern Christians and their allies at a somber but celebratory gala dinner dedicated to Christian unity in the face of persecution and genocide. Soon thereafter he stalked off under a chorus of boos, with the senator declaring the room to be full of hate and saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” The entire transcript of his remarks is included below, along with the complete audio I recorded 20 feet from Senator Cruz and the stage.
The plight of Christians in the Middle East has swept to the fore of public consciousness in recent weeks as ISIS and related organizations have systematically persecuted and murdered Christians, driving them from homes that date back to the very beginning of Christendom. The In Defense of Christians Summit was organized to bring together Christians of every sect and denomination to stand in solidarity with their persecuted brethren. Summit participants spent Wednesday on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress to drive home their message.
Ted Cruz, however, fractured that unity. Hours before his keynote yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon ran a customarily nuanced headline blaring, “Cruz Headlines Conference Featuring Hezbollah Supporters.” The story referenced several of the leading Middle Eastern Christian leaders present and their own remarks about their region’s politics, taking particular pains to note that Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Raï has an open dialogue with Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Lebanese political party and State Department designated terrorist organization. Lebanon has a long history of inter-religious conflict and is split between Sunni, Shi’ite, and Christian communities. Many Christians in the region have either allied with or received shelter from Shi’ite Muslim communities in the face of radical Sunni organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Cruz’s spokesperson responded to that story, saying, “Sen. Cruz is appearing at the In Defense of Christians event tonight because he wants to take every opportunity to highlight this crisis, the unspeakable persecution of Christians. … America has been silent for far too long, and we need to speak with a united voice against this horror. Sen. Cruz is speaking to make the unequivocal point that religious bigotry in all its forms—be it targeting Christians, Jews, or minority Muslim sects—is an evil that must be exposed and combatted.”
When Cruz took the stage, however, after two days of declarations of Christian unity and recognition of the widespread persecution of peoples of all faiths, his remarks emphasized his devotion to the state of Israel. The crowd applauded faithfully as Cruz made the argument that ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, as well as Syria and Iran, were all equal participants in genocidal bigotry. Cruz then transitioned. After saying, “Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice. A humanitarian crisis. Christians, are being systematically exterminated,” Cruz then turned to the 1948 formation of Israel, a sensitive subject for many Palestinian Christians, and declared that “today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.”
It was at that point that some in the audience objected to Cruz turning a celebration of Christian unity into a lecture on a divisive subject that many in the crowd experienced as part of their everyday lives. Cruz returned accusations of hatred. Even then, most of the crowd tried to reconcile with him as Cruz continued on to speak about “Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals [applause] who seek to—[applause]. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ [applause].” As he continued to press the issue, however, the crowd increasingly urged him to “move on” and booed, leading him to lament those “consumed with hate” and depart. Reportedly, Lebanese ambassador Antoine Shedid and three members of the Lebanese parliament walked out of Cruz’s speech:
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) September 11, 2014
In Defense of Christians executive director Andrew Doran later came to the stage to acknowledge the sensitivity of the Israel-Palestinian issue, but urged, “For the love of God, we’re here to talk about Christians and we’re here to be united.” When Cardinal Raï took the stage after the dinner, he related an old Lebanese saying, “At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers,” said he was sorry for the events earlier that evening. He urged all in the crowd to put the unpleasantness behind them, an urging that echoed through the remarks of all the leaders speaking that night.
In a statement, IDC President Toufic Baaklini said,
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 other 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.
While the Cruz incident was a low-light for the summit, the Christian leaders gathered at the dinner continued to make vigorous defenses of the separation of church and state and the importance of inculcating pluralism in the Middle East. I sat next to an Iraqi man whose family had been turned out of their homes and had to flee the area their people had settled for thousands of years. Those sufferers should be the focus in discussing IDC and its summit, and they should not be made into pawns or proxies for other conflicts.
Transcript of Ted Cruz’s Remarks at In Defense of Christians Summit
Good evening. Today we are gathered at a time of extraordinary challenge. Tonight we are all united in defense of Christians [applause]. Tonight, we are all united in defense of Jews [applause]. 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 would dare disagree with their religious beliefs. Religious bigotry is a cancer with many manifestations. ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas [applause], and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran [applause], are all engage in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East. Sometimes we are told not to loop 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 a murderous rampage throughout the region. hate is hate. And murder is murder.
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. [mixed applause, boos, “come on”] Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hates 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 [applause] who seek to — [applause]. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ [applause]. 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. [applause, murmering, objections]. I will say this. I am saddened [shouting].
[IDC President Toufic Baaklini comes out to urge respect]
I will say this, I am saddened, to see that some here, not all but some here, are so consumed with hate [no, boos], that they cannot enjoy [unintelligible, boos]. 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. [boos]