Ted Cruz left the stage at a Washington D.C. conference last Wednesday after being booed for his support of Israel. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” Cruz told the crowd before walking off.
Ross Douthat wrote a New York Times piece about Cruz’s aborted speech, which was to be given to a mixed group of Christians about the tragedy of genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria. On Facebook, Erick Erickson described the article as “precisely right.” Although I respect Erick, and know he has a unique perspective as a Christian who grew up in a Middle Eastern Muslim country, I can’t agree with his assessment.
Douthat paints a very fuzzy picture using wide paintbrushes and long strokes to make an argument that ultimately fails to make any point at all.
The political left in the West associates Christian faith with dead white male imperialism and does not come naturally to the recognition that Christianity is now the globe’s most persecuted religion. And in the Middle East the Israel-Palestine question, with its colonial overtones, has been the left’s great obsession, whereas the less ideologically convenient plight of Christians under Islamic rule is often left untouched.
There are many inconsistencies in American liberal thought, and one of the largest is the opposition to Israel in favor of Muslim extremists who oppose every tenet of the left’s agenda. The plight of Christians around the world has never been on the left’s radar screen. It’s no special gift of Middle East Christians, or Christians of any stripe in particular, to earn the left’s purposeful disregard. Douthat’s use of soft words like “less ideologically” and “often left untouched” simply weaken any attempt at an argument.
The issue Douthat really wanted to address is not Christian persecution, but support of Israel, or rather, lack of that support among certain Christians. His basic premise is that Ted Cruz should not have brought up the subject of Israel to this group in particular, knowing that many of them hate Israel, and deal with her enemies as a matter of daily intercourse. Of course they do. The real question is: do they deal with Assad and Hizbollah because they must do it to survive, or do they in some way share the ideals of Assad and Hezbollah, especially regarding Israel?
Douthat professes to read Cruz’s mind, and assert intellectual and moral superiority over him.
Perhaps (I think almost certainly) with this reality in mind, Cruz began his remarks with a lecture on how Assad, Hezbollah and ISIS are indistinguishable, and paused to extol Israel’s founding, and then offered the sweeping claim that the region’s Christians actually “have no greater ally than the Jewish state.”
Could Ted Cruz possibly have a different reality in mind? Maybe the reality that Israel is, in fact, America’s, and Christianity’s, best ally in the Middle East, was on his mind. Because that’s what he said. The only reason that certain Christians are tolerated in Syria and Lebanon is because they’ve been there for thousands of years, have significant political influence, and in Syria’s case, are just as much a minority as Assad’s Alawite Muslims. The Alawites are despised by both Sunni and Shiite radicals, and would certainly be massacred en masse if Assad’s rule ended.
Using a telling parenthetical word, Douthat wrote:
The first (debatable) proposition earned applause, as did his calls for Jewish-Christian unity. But at the last claim, with which many Lebanese and Palestinian Christians strongly disagree, the audience offered up some boos, at which point Cruz began attacking “those who hate Israel,” the boos escalated, things fell apart and he walked offstage.
Who would think it’s debatable that there is no greater ally than the Jewish State in the Middle East? I suppose if you twisted the meaning of Cruz’s words to mean everyone in the world, including those who sit in banquet chairs in posh ballrooms in Washington D.C. to discuss those who are dying for following Jesus, you might possibly be able to conclude that there are other allies attempting to stop those Christians’ suffering. I’m sorry, but I can’t twist that far.
Israel has, for over a year, provided medical assistance to Syrian rebels fighting Assad, as well as humanitarian assistance to persecuted Christians. They did this on their own, at considerable risk, in field hospitals located in the Golan heights. No Arab country has made such a commitment. In fact, wherever a disaster occurs around the world, Israel is one of the first responders. You see the Star of David flying in Haiti, the Philippines, and other places in need. You don’t see the Saudi flag, or any Arab country’s.
Douthat’s piece is little more than a hastily assembled platform to take a cheap shot at Ted Cruz for speaking his conscience. I’d call it speaking truth to power, but the people in that ballroom don’t really represent power. David P. Goldman, a genuine expert on Syrian politics and history, wrote in his rebuttal:
The problem is NOT, as Douthat argues, that “the Middle East’s Christians simply don’t have the kind of influence to matter” in American strategic calculations. The problem is that Middle East Christians threw in with (and some helped invent) a movement directly opposed to American interests in the region, namely the Arab nationalism embodied in the Ba’ath Party.
Goldman sums it up this way, “Jews who reject Christian support are crazy, and Middle Eastern Christians who reject Jewish support are crazy. It’s the job of leaders to tell them so.” Ted Cruz attempted to tell them, but their hatred of Jews and Israel—not all of the Christians at the conference, let me emphasize it was a minority, but a vocal minority, and more than just one or two hecklers—overwhelmed their own rationality.
Senator Cruz didn’t have to speak at the conference, and he didn’t have to mention Israel. But neither did certain Christians there have to boo him off the stage for doing so. Senator Cruz has the power, as a U.S. Senator, to offer concrete help to the persecuted Christians. The attendees at this particular conference would have done well to listen to what he had to say. Douthat brings his personal prejudice into his argument, writing about Cruz “[the] fact that he preferred to do it this way instead says a lot — none of it good — about his priorities and instincts.” I would say that the verdict regarding Cruz’s priorities and instincts is a matter of opinion, and Douthat simply revealed his own.
As for me, I think this event demonstrates Ted Cruz exhibiting the best priorities and instincts. As much as I respect Erick Erickson and trust his opinions in many matters, in this one I’m afraid he is dead wrong.