By David Benkof
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz must be the gutsiest supporter of Israel in American history, if you believe media accounts of his actions at a recent Christian assembly. After some in the audience booed his pro-Israel remarks, he had the gumption to walk out, saying, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
But the episode was more complex. The ambitious Cruz is a highly cynical, calculated politician, and nothing could have delighted him more than the chance to storm off a stage in mock disgust at people who wouldn’t cheer his advocacy for a position that’s popular within his party.
I’m a supporter of Israel – a big one. I’m an Israeli citizen whose politics are center-right, and who relishes the staunch support of Israel shown by American politicians, and especially by leaders of my own Republican party.
But this wasn’t a pro-Israel event. Senator Cruz received his jeers at a gathering of mostly Middle Eastern Christians trying to build unity on a crucial issue – the persecution and murder of their co-religionists in the Levant. Nonetheless, the Senator’s remarks repeatedly returned to his devotion to Israel and the Jews.
“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 greater ally than the Jewish state. 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…. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason.”
Of course it’s always good when people praise our People, our Nation, and our Land. I do it all the time. But this specific event existed to garner attention to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – and hijacking that cause to promote Israel is just as bad as exploiting the world’s disgust for ISIS to attack Hamas, as I’ve written elsewhere.
The persecution and murder of Christians is an affront to good people everywhere. Communities of Christians numbering in the hundreds of thousands in places like Lebanon and Iraq have been decimated. Huge numbers of Christians have become refugees. ISIS is a constant, terrifying threat.
Folks, if there is ever a “V’im ani l’atzmi mah ani?” moment (“If I am only for myself, what am I?”) this is it. As a people that suffered terribly during the last century from persecutions in tsarist Russia, Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Arab lands (among other places), we cannot focus only on our own problems – important as they are.
So for Cruz to ignore the agenda of the gathering and harp on a pet issue of his – knowing that it would resound beyond his immediate audience – was shameful. Politicians simply don’t lecture anti-Obamacare rallies about capital punishment. If I were there, I probably would have booed, too.
Jews, of all people, should understand that morality requires juggling devotion to many challenges at once – some close to home, some more distant. Let’s stop our knee-jerk cheering for anyone who says something nice about Israel and look at the broader context. Because there are non-Jews suffering who need our help, too.
And if not now, when?