Some conservatives are attacking Senator Ted Cruz in very strong terms for his performance at a rally for persecuted Christians earlier this week, which made the news because the crowd booed him and he left the stage. Various commentators have said that Cruz was injecting the divisive issue of Israel into a rally about something else; that he was attacking the Middle Eastern Christians in the audience as bigots for not agreeing with his view of Israel; that he planned to rile up the crowd to endear himself to supporters of Israel; and even that his remarks show that he is not truly Christian and that he “flipped the bird to people and churches who are dying right now.”
Cruz is a friend of mine, so keep that in mind when I say I think the criticisms are misguided and sometimes wildly unfair. (Many of the critics are also friends.) A few points in this regard:
- I do not think it is right to say that Cruz “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.” Cruz specifically said that “not all but some” in the room were “haters.”
- I do not personally see circumstances in which it would be appropriate to boo the remark “Those who hate Israel, hate the United States”—which is, incidentally, a valid generalization. Some in the crowd did boo that comment. (Audio here, as is a slightly inaccurate transcript.) Or to boo after “those who hate Jews, hate Christians.” Or after the observation that people who behead Jews as infidels do the same to Christians.
- A partial defense could be made of the booers nonetheless. The boos began when Cruz praised Israel as the strongest ally of Christians. When they booed the following remarks, perhaps they were still reacting to that comment and interpreting the whole passage as tarring critics of Israel as Jew-haters. [Update: Somehow I accidentally deleted a sentence I meant to go here, about how previous philo-Semitic comments by Cruz got applause, which lends some plausibility to this theory.] That could explain, though not in my view excuse, their behavior. But even in that case, Cruz would certainly have been within his rights to react as he did to the people shouting over him at such innocuous lines. Treating that booing as anti-Semitic is a perfectly defensible reaction.
- When Cruz said he would not “stand with” the booers, he was obviously making a political rather than a theological statement, and obviously not saying that he would refuse to speak up for persecuted Christians who disagree with him about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was saying that people who hate Jews, or are indifferent to their persecution, aren’t his allies.
- Perhaps it was unwise for Cruz to mention Israel at this conference. Or perhaps it made sense to remind people that the principle of religious freedom and tolerance should apply to everyone, and needs the defense of everyone. (Especially given that he would have read or been told that some people associated with the rally were soft on Hezbollah.) Even if he should have steered clear of the issue, though, his reaction to the booing seems to me justifiable–and the attacks on him much too heated.