Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Senator Cruz undermined the cause of persecuted Christians

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 12, 2014

For the record, Senator Ted Cruz was not “booed off the stage” when he addressed a Washington conference on persecution of Christians in the Middle East. He left the stage voluntarily.

Yes, the Texas senator was booed. And yes, the reaction to his comments was impolite. (Conference participants from the countries of the Middle East are accustomed to more rambunctious political debates, but that is a separate issue.) The heckling was making it difficult for Cruz to speak. But he could have continued. Any seasoned campaigner has faced hecklers, and knows how to calm a crowd. Senator Cruz chose not to do that. On the contrary, he upped the ante, accusing his hecklers of hatred. Then he walked out.

The audience became restive when Cruz condemned Hezbollah. The senator must have known—at least certainly should have known—that his audience included representatives of the government of Lebanon, which has a tense, delicate relationship with Hezbollah. (The Lebanese ambassador walked out.) But the catcalls began in earnest when Cruz said: “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” Again, he must have (should have) known that he was speaking to Palestinian Christians, who still resent the state that drove them from their native villages.

Now you might argue, if you wish, that Lebanon should not tolerate Hezbollah. You might argue that Palestinians should stop fighting the battles of 1948. But you cannot argue that the hostile reception that Cruz received, when he touched on these sore points, was unpredictable.

Was the heckling tainted by prejudice against Jews? Perhaps so. (Incidentally, in this context it is silly to charge that anti-Semitism was at work, since the hecklers themselves were Semites.) But opposition to Israeli government policies is not prima facie evidence of bigotry, and anyone addressing the snarled politics of the Middle East should be prepared for strong objections to any government’s policies.

If Senator Cruz did not anticipate the reaction that he provoked, then he was remarkably blind to the political realities of the Middle East. Moreover, he was spectacularly blind to the purposes of the conference he addressed, which was designed to make the American public aware of the suffering of persecuted Christians. American policy toward Israel is a topic constantly debated on Capitol Hill. But the plight of Arabic Christians has been sadly ignored. Now at last there was an event calling attention to their concerns, and Cruz was diverting attention back toward Israel.

In fact, thanks to Cruz, much of the media coverage of the conference has focused on the Texas senator’s speech, and the (real or imagined) prejudices of his audience, rather than on the persecution of Christians. The keynote speaker undermined the entire event.

Was that his goal? Was Cruz deliberately goading his audience? Did he anticipate the flare-up, and plan to exploit it in order to bolster his own reputation for unswerving support of Israel? Cruz was not speaking from a prepared text. That could be a sign that he was massively unprepared for this appearance. Or it could indicate that he was prepared to walk out, as he did, after just a few minutes.

American conservatives, and especially Evangelicals, have applauded Cruz for his loyalty to Israel. But I am not the only observer to question whether the senator from Texas betrayed the interests of persecuted Christians to serve his own political ambitions.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - Sep. 17, 2014 10:35 PM ET USA

    Irrespective of Cruz's motives, about which, unlike others, I do not claim to have knowledge, to follow up on loumiamo7154's simile, inviting Hezbollah to this meeting is like inviting the KKK to an NAACP banquet.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Sep. 17, 2014 3:08 AM ET USA

    Phil's right on Ted Cruz. Cruz came to the convention spoiling for a fight so he could get headlines and the ever grateful support of AIPAC and big donors like Sheldon Adelson. Cruz is the most self serving poltician bar none.

  • Posted by: Brian0101 - Sep. 15, 2014 9:06 PM ET USA

    That meeting was full of Hezbollah supporters of some persuasion. Please tell me how a terrorist group melds with ProChristian advocacy? Call attention without inviting the evil one...

  • Posted by: - Sep. 15, 2014 11:19 AM ET USA

    One doesn't wear a bathing suiit to a formal dinner, nor a tux to the beach. Things that are appropriate in one setting become inappropriate in another. And all of us know this. Cruz was out of line, not because he was wrong, but because he was inappropriate. The truth doesn't always need to be said. Sometimes it may be avoided without disavowing it.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Sep. 14, 2014 5:47 PM ET USA

    Not have another view of this conference, Phil. Lebanese Information Center president Joseph Gebeily, a Christian opposed to Assad, was “shocked” by many of the invited speakers. He went after he learned US congressmen would be there.“I decided we should...not let the bad representatives of Middle East Christians hijack the true message of Christianity...democracy, tolerance, co-existence, inclusiveness,” said Gebeily....I said let’s face those advocates of tyranny and crimes against humanity."

  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - Sep. 14, 2014 3:34 PM ET USA

    Arab Christians think they must join the anti-Israel Amen chorus to prove they are real Arabs, to the point of allowing terrorists into a meeting to protest the persecution of Christians by other terrorists. I'm disappointed Phil feels the need to apologize, very tendentious, for this. There's not a dime's worth of difference between Hezbollah and ISIS. It's past time Arab Christians wake up. Israel is NOT their enemy (and can be their friend). ALL Islamist terrorists are their enemies.

  • Posted by: Defender - Sep. 13, 2014 3:02 PM ET USA

    jg23753479 is correct, especially, "everyone understands 'anti-Semitism' to mean "anti-Jew" thanks to WW II." Notice too that these prelates have been able to jet around promoting their cause to Christians in the US, but don't in Israel who have been fighting their enemies. These prelates are obviously not used to hearing the truth from someone, either. They and CRS have helped to stage manage visiting US bishops to the area (as in a wall which just happens to have an English statement on it).

  • Posted by: a son of Mary - Sep. 13, 2014 5:04 AM ET USA

    Phil, Tks for this incisive piece. Politicians eventually self-reveal as Cruz did; his ambition more important than stopping genocide. Responding like a petulant 6th grader, he accused the audience of hatred when they did not immediately kowtow to his position. Narcissistic politicians have never been in short supply; perhaps this is an opportunity to start cleansing the political decks of these frauds? Imagine an egoless USA focused on promoting good and not self? What could we accomplish?

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Sep. 12, 2014 8:20 PM ET USA

    If Senator Cruz thought he was going to get applause praising Israel to Arab Christians he was badly uninformed or perhaps looking for buzz. Shame on him. But anyone that thinks Hezbollah is part of the answer to the problems facing Christians in the Mideast is in error. After years of struggle Hezbollah has gained its own army in Lebanon along with the right to "recover occupied lands." I don't think Palestinians can see past this. American Catholics don't have an excuse for such naivete.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Sep. 12, 2014 5:43 PM ET USA

    I disagree with you totally. Cruz walked into a wolves' den that pretended to be a herd of sheep. Some of the people in that audience are noted collaborators with Hezbollah and apologists for terrorism. The fact that Hezbollah managed to insinuate itself deeply into Lebanese politics doesn't make it any less a terrorist enterprise. And everyone understands "anti-Semitism" to mean "anti-Jew" thanks to WW II; many Arabs, also semites, are "anti-Semitic" in this sense. This is news to no one today.