Sen. Ted Cruz abruptly cut short his keynote speech addressing Arab Christians last night after members of the group started heckling him for calling on the group to consider Israel an ally. Now the senator's office is saying that, if someone had told him not to mention Israel he just wouldn't have shown up.
Cruz was speaking at a conference hosted by In Defense of Christians, a group dedicated to raising awareness about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. During his speech Cruz pointed out the parallels between Christians and Jews being persecuted in the Middle East. But when he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel," members of the audience started yelling at him to focus on Christians. Cruz said it "saddened" him that some in the audience were "consumed by hate" and cut his speech short.
Cruz’s communications director, Amanda Carpenter, told The Daily Signal that he never would have agreed to the event if he'd known his pro-Israel message would be taken that way. “It is crystal clear to anyone who observes Ted Cruz that he stands with Israel,” she said. “If organizers had asked us not to discuss our support of Israel, we would have declined the event.”
And yet, if Cruz was going to raise awareness about the plight of persecuted Arab Christians, he probably should have known that support for Israel is not universal among the persecuted. As The Jewish Daily Forward noted, Cruz grouped Hezbollah, the Syrian and Iranian governments, ISIS and Hamas into one group. At the same time:
A number of Christians in Lebanon and Syria are in loose alliance with the Syrian government and its Shi’ite Hezbollah allies in pushing back against a motley assortment of rebels that include Sunni Islamist groups that have targeted Christians.
Several conservatives blogs also disapproved of Cruz remarks. The American Conservative wrote that he "fractured" the unity between the various Christian groups in attendance, and The Federalist argued that he's "not a hero for insulting a room full of persecuted Christians."
Rep. Charles Dent, a moderate Republican who represents several people of Syrian and Lebanese descent in Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post that while he supports Israel he didn't support Cruz's remarks. "I support Israel, but what Senator Cruz did was outrageous and incendiary," Dent told The Post. "He showed a true lack of sensitivity for the people he was speaking to, especially the religious leaders who were there. It was a political speech, inappropriate and, overall, an uncomfortable moment."
Dent argued that Cruz made the speech to fire up the Tea Party, and he's not the only one who's skeptical of the whole thing. Mark Tooley, the president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, argued that Cruz knew exactly what he was doing. "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," Tooley wrote.