US Senator Ted Cruz was booed off stage last Wednesday for defending Israel at an event hosted by the In Defense of Christians organization. But what really happened?
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
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 better ally than the Jewish state.
[Here the booing began]
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 murder them…
[Shortly thereafter, Sen. Cruz left the podium amidst boos and angry words from the audience.]
* * *
In recent months, the world has become increasingly aware of the brutal persecution of Christians, a reality that is intensifying globally.
Although there are other perpetrators, by far the most crushing abuse of today’s Christians is inflicted by radical Muslim terrorists, not only in the Middle East but also in far-flung states such as Pakistan and Nigeria.
And since the “Arab Spring” began in December 2010, the frequency and intensity of assaults on Middle East Christians has increased exponentially.
Today, in many of the Muslim countries that expelled a total of 850,000-1,000,000 million Jews in the 20th Century, Christians are facing similar mistreatment and disenfranchisement. They are being pressured to convert to Islam and pay the Islamic jizya tax, or to flee their homes and abandon their possessions, or to face the sword.
Ancient Christian Communities in Middle East Predate Islam
The self-declared Islamic State caliphate [ISIS or IS] and its viciousness against Christians and other “infidels” has at long last brought Christian persecution into focus in the West.
The ancient Christian communities in the Middle East are primarily pre-Islamic, indigenous and disparate – Coptic, Assyriac, Eastern Orthodox, Marionite, Melkite, Aramaic and Armenian along with other less-recognizable denominations.
Although these churches sometimes quarrel among themselves, uneasy with one another’s practices and traditions, they share the common threat of Islamist terrorism, for now most notably at the hand of ISIS.
Purpose of Conference to Draw Attention to Plight of Christians
It was against this backdrop that a conference was organized in Washington DC, with the stated intention of bringing prominent Middle Eastern church leaders together. Titled “In Defense of Christians” (IDC), the gathering took place from September 9-11.
Sen. Ted Cruz, an outspoken Christian from Texas, was invited to the IDC conference to present Wednesday evening’s keynote address.
Lapidomedia reported, “The historic meeting of patriarchs from the Middle East was a show of solidarity to draw world leaders’ attention to the plight of ancient Christian communities facing human atrocities in the region.
“Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Rai, Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II and Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, were among those in attendance at the historic summit.”
Rumors Cite Donor Links to Terror
From the outset, rumors had circulated that at least one of IDC’s key donors was supportive of the Assad regime in Syria and was on friendly terms with Hezbollah.
These charges were inconclusively disputed in cyberspace and elsewhere while IDC organizers resolutely carried on their preparations.
Then, on September 10 – the same day as Cruz’s scheduled speech – an article appeared in a conservative US website, the Washington Free Beacon, written by Alana Goodman. She said:
“Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) is headlining a conference on Wednesday funded by a controversial Clinton donor that will feature pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad speakers in Washington, D.C….. critics fear several of the speakers will try to use the event to bolster Washington’s support for the Syrian regime in its ongoing civil war and help Bashar al-Assad restore his legitimacy and power.”
Hours later came the ugly incident during which Sen. Cruz was booed off the stage for his pro-Israel remarks.
Middle East Christians Accustomed to Dhimmitude Status
Many American Christians are unaware of the hostility toward Israel that permeates numerous Middle East churches. It seems to emanate from a toxic brew of bad theology, cultural subservience and unbridled anti-Semitism.
I asked Chuck Kopp, a Christian pastor who has served in the heart of Jerusalem for decades, to give me his perceptive of this anti-Israel attitude. He said:
“What is the source of the Christian minorities’ deceit and deception in the Middle East? I am convinced that it is the dhimmitude status that has been enforced on the community from the time Islam began to reign in this region by the power of the sword.
“When these Christians talk, they do not understand to what degree they have been conditioned to perform for their masters,” he continued. “The sooner the mask comes off of this treacherous tyranny, originating in the Ottoman era, the sooner this beleaguered community will be free enough to truly appreciate Israel’s presence and protection under the law.”
Meanwhile, today brought even more insight into the IDC conference. Lee Smith, writing for in the current Weekly Standard, had this to say:
ISIS is a Murderous Group, but so is Tehran
“Too many of the priests, prelates, and patriarchs from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, as well as one of the organization’s key benefactors, Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, have also identified themselves as supporters of the Iranian axis in the Middle East. ISIS is a murderous group, but so is the regime in Tehran and so are its clients, chief among them Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Yes, the Assad/Hezbollah involvement in the conference makes perfect sense.
It explains why Sen. Cruz chose to stake out his pro-Israel position at the very beginning of his speech.
First and foremost, he seems to have been responding to the Free Beacon’s statements. As a potential nominee for US President in 2016, he sought to distance himself from any conceivable link with Assad or Hezbollah or their devotees. He did so by declaring his loyalty to Israel.
The crowd’s angry response was, of course, predictable.
At the same time, he placed himself firmly on the bloodstained ground common to Jews and Christians in the Middle East while emphasizing that Israel is the only country in the region where the Christian community is safe and thriving.
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), commented, “Likely Cruz, a savvy politician, knew the reaction he would provoke from some by commending Israel, and he maximized his political moment before the many cameras. Although the featured keynote speaker, he quit the podium after only a few minutes, amid boos and shouts of ‘go home’ from a loud minority of the crowd.”
“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” Cruz announced as he walked out, “then I will not stand with you.”
Media Focuses on Cruz, Not on Persecution of Christians
Needless to say, this heated uproar cast a shadow of gloom and disappointment over the rest of the conference. It exposed the Middle East’s dangerous fault lines and revealed the deeply-rooted antipathies and anti-Semitism that afflict Christian communities there.
Naturally the ugly episode made the headlines. And typically, the media focused far less on the persecution of Christians and far more on an assortment of speculations about the merits and demerits of Sen. Ted Cruz.
If there are future gatherings on behalf of Middle Eastern Christians, Israel should receive its due respect as a safe haven for the Jewish people as well as for its growing Christian population.
But let’s also hope that the focus will remain on the urgent needs of persecuted Middle East Christians.
Senator Ted Cruz and the clerical leadership of the Middle East churches would surely have to agree about on one inarguable fact: 21st-Century Christians are in grave danger of being eradicated from the Cradle of Christianity.
Or, as Pastor Kopp succinctly put it, “These Christians will soon disappear from the scene if the likes of ISIS and other kindred ideologies are not stopped in their tracks.
Author/journalist Lela Gilbert has traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and throughout North America. She is a contributor to several publications and serves as an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, Washington, DC. This article was written for United with Israel.