Friday, September 12, 2014

Ted Cruz blew it.

Honestly, as a Palestinian married to a Jew, I am both compelled and repelled by the situation in the Middle East.

My dad was born in the Holy Land, and he was just ten years old when his mother left dinner cooking on the stove in the rush to get her five children out of the country during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 (i.e., the establishment of the modern state of Israel). The young Catholic family fled to Egypt, forever leaving behind everything they had and knew. They were even for a while without their husband and father, as my grandfather ended up in a refugee camp somewhere in the desert, his wife and children not knowing for six months if he were dead or alive. Can you imagine?

The situation in the Middle East is delicate. It is complicated. It is nuanced. It has a history going back thousands of years, which is hard for Americans to grasp. I support Israel, but I do not support every action of Israel. I love the Jewish people, and I love my fellow Christian Arabs. I abhor the violence and persecution that is occurring in the Middle East by radical, brutal Islamists with no conscience, and I believe that unfathomable evil must be stopped. I stand with my Christian brothers and sisters who are undergoing hardships that we in the west cannot (yet) imagine, and that is why I am so disturbed by what Senator Ted Cruz said and did the other night at a gathering meant to support those suffering Christians.

I know the organizer of the In Defense of Christians Summit (IDC), and it is heartbreaking that the only narrative coming out of the days-long event are reports of "bigotry" leveled at persecuted Christians who are now being accused of supporting terrorists. This unfortunate outcome is largely thanks to Ted Cruz's stepping in doo-doo, then walking off the stage when his ill-advised comments were not embraced. He continues his self-righteous grandstanding in the regular and social media, and I can't make sense of his tone-deafness, arrogance, lack of finesse, and/or lack of geopolitical knowledge and insight. I honestly thought he was smarter than that.

But I guess I am getting ahead of myself.

If you are not familiar with the story, here's an overview of what happened that night:

Click and read the whole article, but here is an excerpt:
...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. 

More analysis for those who are not familiar with the geopolitical realities of the region:

Some highlights:

When Cruz was supposed to give the keynote address and discuss the deadly serious topic of persecution of Christians, he instead insulted a largely immigrant and foreign crowd as a group that didn’t understand their own political situation and stomped out of the room after calling them a bunch of haters.

Yeah, that's not so smart.

Christians who are persecuted have political views that may not align with U.S. interests. Who knew? For many of us, our concern about genocide of Christians isn’t limited to those who are perfectly aligned with our views. 
Ya think?

And this:
One can certainly argue in support of Cruz’s statement — politically, at least — and yet also recognize how fraught the topic is for Christians in the region.

It's worth noting here that Ted Cruz is an evangelical Christian, and evangelical Christians have a different biblical and political understanding of the modern state of Israel than Catholics do. Catholics know that the "new Israel" is the Church. By contrast, evangelicals view the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 as some sort of biblical fulfillment with heavy eschatological implications. Ted Cruz is an evangelical, and that influences (and skews) his understanding of things.

The Church herself is very sensitive to the plight of Palestinians and of Christians in the Middle East. While supportive of Israel's right to exist, the Church has always been prudent and measured in how she speaks of these delicate issues. Catholics must think with the mind of the Church, even more than we think of American or Israeli (or any nation's) interests. American Catholics too often default to the Protestant understanding of things in this predominately Protestant culture, but we would do well to stand with the understanding and experiences of our fellow Catholics -- the bishops, priests, and laity of the actual region.

I regret that the hard efforts of so many people working for unity and to help our persecuted brethren has turned into something divisive. Cruz is no dummy; he should have been savvy enough to know better, and he should not continue to agitate and grandstand this issue now. It's also sad (if predictable) that many in the media have taken to sound-byte sensationalism instead of taking time and care to give us real perspective, real journalism.

But hope springs eternal, and Christ will bring good out of this unnecessary debacle. From IDC president Toufic Baaklini:
For more than 48 hours, our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics. It has not been easy, and not without challenges. Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that the [IDC] is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside.

Amen, and Lord have mercy.

**UPDATE: Here's an excellent summary of what happened in that room, from Catholic Vote...

What I saw at the "In Defense of Christians" Summit 

And here's an excellent interview with IDC Executive Director, Andrew Doran, who is the brother of a dear friend of mine. He explains all the amazing and seemingly impossible things that were accomplished at the summit, despite the Ted Cruz sideshow:


  1. Wow. I knew it was complicated but it always helps to get more perspective on the matter. Honestly, I don't pay attention to Ted Cruz and his comments in the media - so thank you for explaining. Some people have no sense when they think they are just pandering for more votes....

  2. Leila, you and I have been the FB route already, but just to put a nice bow on it as you have with your blog post:

    Sometime, somewhere, somehow, the Israelis and Christians in the Middle East must move past the past and support each other; there existence depends on it. I fully recognize that passions may be inflamed based on the very real, very emotional and very serious ramifications decades of tumult have created. But the future marches towards at a quick pace, and when it comes to deadly Islamic fascism, that pace is quickening. Some questions worth asking: when do we say "enough" and tell the truth as it is? When do sacrifice the prejudices of the past for the hope of the future? Ultimately, you have cited Cruz for failing to understand the consequences of his words. But we also much be willing to examine the consequences of those words never being uttered. We can debate the need being tactful, mindful, polite, deferential, etc. but in the end it all comes down truth. Cruz told the truth; therefore I find it difficult to come down on someone for saying what are ultimately going to be necessary words AT SOME POINT. Perhaps this wasn't that RIGHT point, but the point was right.

  3. But Ken, Cruz "told the truth" about what? That we all must work to end religious persecution of any stripe? Yes, and he was applauded. But he didn't stop there. He expected Arab Christians to agree to his statement that the state of Israel (which has its own political interests not always in alignment with Christian Arabs) is their best ally. Many cannot agree with that in light of living in that region and experiencing the policies. There is a distinction to be made between the state of Israel (a government with policies) and the Jewish people. What Cruz said was antithetical to the very thing that you want, because in the two days prior, there had been unity, strength, support, cooperation, working together because their "very existence depends on it". That was the point of the conference after all, and it was going well. Why Cruz had to step in it as he did is beyond me.

  4. His tact tho ...
    what even, what --

  5. Kim is having trouble posting, so she emailed me this:

    "Leila, your post on Ted Cruz was nicely done! It's a delicate, difficult subject, especially for conservatives. I think there is more dissent on the right on this issue than many people realize."

    I have heard from several people that they are having trouble posting. I am sorry. I wish I knew how to fix it!

  6. I added this Catholic Vote link as an update to the OP:

    It's an excellent eyewitness account. Much better analysis than what I wrote.

  7. An NRO interview with the executive director of IDC:


PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest.