Now, I am no Ted Cruz antagonist. I am a supporter of the Tea Party — it’s done, on the whole, a world of good for the Republican Party by reinvigorating it and strengthening it. I even supported Cruz’s push to shut down the government to stop ObamaCare implementation. And I am also a full-throated supporter of Israel.
But let’s be clear about what Cruz was doing in D.C.: using one of the world’s most beleaguered minorities as a prop for his own self-aggrandizement.
Why would he do this? This is speculation, but perhaps Cruz, who is a Southern Baptist and whose father is a fundamentalist Baptist preacher, was subtly pandering to a segment of fundamentalist Christians who do not believe that Middle East Christians are “real” Christians. To a serious undercurrent of American Fundamentalism, the Catholic Church is the Antichrist that has been oppressing the “true” Church for millennia, and anything that looks vaguely Catholic, with ordained priests and ornate liturgies, is equally evil. Of course, this is hokum: Middle East Christians were Christians (with their priests and liturgies and incense and icons) for 1,800 years before the Fundamentalists invented their revisionist history.
This much, however, is absolutely clear: Cruz tarred and attacked one of the most powerless and beleaguered minorities in the world, solely for personal political gain. He was speaking truth to the powerless. He was strong against the weak.
You have to realize that that room was full of Arab Christians who, had they been seen applauding the state of Israel in that room, would have faced the real prospect of death once they got back home. Ted Cruz put them in an impossible position. One of the most instructive moments in my career as a journalist came in 2000, when I spent some time with a couple of young Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem. They couldn’t stand the Israelis, for obvious reasons. But they were terrified of Hamas, and feared them far more than they feared the Israelis. They were completely open with me about this off the record. But once I took my pen and pad out for an interview, they only spoke about the awfulness of Israel. They literally feared for their lives if they were quoted in an American newspaper saying that Hamas was worse for them than the Israelis.
Do you think that Syrian Christians love the cruel Assad regime? I don’t. But I am certain they realize that Assad is the only thing standing between them and ISIS. Who are we to judge them harshly?
It is important to note that early in his remarks the audience applauded when Senator Cruz said Christians need to be united in defense of Christians, and applauded again when he said they need to be united in defense of Jews.
To lay my cards on the table, my father is Jewish and I think I am about as pro-Israel as one gets. Yet Senator Cruz appeared to me to behave boorishly — totally out of tone, with apparently no understanding of the actual conditions under which half the people in front of him live on a daily basis, and squandering a great opportunity to make the American view point more understandable for a room full of religious leaders in the Middle East who don’t “get” us any more than we “get” them.
In the Senator’s defense, I gather from pre-dinner gossip that there was a big story in the morning press that was sort of a hit job on the conference, alleging that a couple of the patriarchs had Hezbollah ties. Without investigating that charge personally, I assume it is true. I don’t know how one could be involved in charity work in Lebanon or Syria without *some* level of cooperation with Hezbollah. That’s not the same thing as being a terrorist to my mind (though I would be open to evidence and as I say I haven’t investigated those claims). Molly Hemingway points out in The Federalist that the “cooperation” alleged is against ISIS, and that seems defensible to me under the precept “any port in a storm.” The U.S. allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler.
Exactly. Do you think feminists and conservative Evangelicals have much good to say about each other normally? But they put their sometimes bitter differences aside to work together to fight against sex trafficking. The good they are trying to do on this issue is more important than the real and important differences they have. They recognize this. The child saved from sex slavery does not care what her savior’s views on abortion or once-saved-always-saved is. Neither, happily, do the feminists and Evangelicals who do this good work.
Tobin alleges that these Christians are spreading anti-Semitic propaganda, even though all the reporting from the event has relayed that these religious leaders spent two days reciting and rallying to liberal principles, and calling for the defense of Muslim minorities and Jews as well as their own flocks. But that was not enough.
Tobin then calls these Christian leaders of the Middle East — a group that represents a vanishing, powerless minority facing genocide and ethnic cleansing — “a hate group masquerading as victims.”
What to say in response? To look upon the displacement of over a million Christians, to listen to the death rattle of Christianity in the Middle East, and complain that they didn’t flatter a country that offers them no material assistance is, frankly, the reaction of a sociopath.
The political movement to get Americans to care about the plight of Middle Eastern Christians was a fragile one. This was always a difficult task for the reasons French philosopher Régis Debray outlines; the victims are too religious to excite the left and too foreign to excite the right. And by exploiting his credibility among conservative Evangelicals, Ted Cruz’s calumnious goading and showboating at this conference gave this movement a political decapitation, telling conservatives that it’s perfectly ok to ignore these people.
The Washington Free Beacon, which sensationalized the video, is also responsible. As is the prominent columnist of one of America’s most influential neoconservative periodicals. It won’t be forgotten.
Read the whole thing. I would like Jonathan Tobin to explain just whom he is referring to as a “hate group masquerading as victims.” The patriarchs? Arab Christians? Do these Christians not bleed when ISIS cuts their heads off, even though they hold objectionable opinions about Israel, and may even be anti-Semitic?
I think this despicable event could end up being bad for Israel. Why? For all the reasons you’ve read above. Nobody likes a bully. Ted Cruz behaved as a bully to some of the most defenseless people in the world. So did these others. It’s going to make a lot of American Christians, I think, reconsider their political views.
The controversy coming out of this was so unnecessary, and so regrettable. What did the Beacon stand to gain from this stunt (publishing an incendiary smear of the conference before Cruz appeared)? What do they imagine Israel gains? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this Washington newspaper cares more about discrediting Arab Christian leaders who came to America to rally support for their communities facing genocide, but some of whom hold offensive opinions about Israel, than it does about the fact that these people are facing mass murder and the extermination of their communities.
What about American Christians? To repeat: Anti-Semitism repulsive and I condemn it, even when (especially when!) it is voiced by my fellow Christians. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, without qualification or apology. But the fact that some, or even many, Middle Eastern Arab Christians hold anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel views — and they are not the same thing — has no bearing at all on whether or not we American Christians should support efforts to defend and save from mass murder some of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The question to you, my fellow American Christians: In your opinion, do the anti-Israel views of these Christians mean that they deserve what they get from Islamic murderers?
Put bluntly, is Israel more important to you than the lives of these Middle Eastern Christians?
Here, by the way, is the statement In Defense Of Christians, the advocacy group that organized the DC summit, has made in response to the Cruz debacle. Excerpt:
In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini issued the following statement in response to the disruption at IDC’s Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner last evening:
“In 1915, a German army officer named Armin Wegner… began to document a genocide that was taking place against Armenians. Over one million people, eradicated, marched into the desert, and murdered. Armin Wegner smuggled photos out at great risk to himself, to show the documented genocide that was taking place. In 1933 in Germany, Wegner became the only German author to publicly write an open letter in condemnation of what he saw coming down the road. For this, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. The title of the letter was, In Defense of the Jews.”
“This was the story IDC’s Executive Director, Andrew Doran, told in tears about the inspiration for the name ‘In Defense of Christians.’ The organization was founded to stand in solidarity with the Christian communities of the Middle East who are even now facing systematic genocide. Doran made these remarks after Senator Cruz abruptly left the stage during his keynote address.