Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) got a heavy dose of Middle Eastern hospitality during his keynote address at the gala dinner hosted by In Defense of Christians on Wednesday night.
When the senator stated an obvious fact – that the same people who murder Christians in the Middle East also hate America, Jews and Israel – gala attendees erupted in protest, booed the senator, a well-known proponent of Christian rights and religious freedom in the Middle East, and called on him to leave the stage.
Cruz acceded to their request, but not before giving a blistering retort to their hostility: "If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Good night and God bless."
Audio of Cruz's speech, and of the angry response it elicited, can be found at the Assyrian International News Agency's website here. Video of the confrontation can be seen here.
The debacle is clearly an embarrassment for the newly founded organization, In Defense of Christians. After the confrontation, Sen. Cruz's office issued a statement that lamented how an event intended to promote unity "deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred."
"I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America, that those who hate Jews also hate Christians, and that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ," Cruz said in the statement, adding that he had no choice but to leave after seeing the hostility that was on display.
In response to the debacle, In Defense of Christians issued a statement from its President Toufic Baaklini that seemed to obliquely condemn Sen. Cruz for injecting "politics" into the conference agenda, "which momentarily played into the hands of a few people who do not adhere to IDC's principles." The controversy was caused by some "gatecrashers" to the $175 a plate dinner, the IDC tried to suggest.
"At every wedding, there are a few problems," the statement read. "In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will." (A phone call to the IDC spokesperson has gone un-returned.)
Prior to Cruz's talk, journalist Lee Smith tweeted that Cruz's appearance at the IDC conference would only serve to legitimize the Iranian, Hezbollah and Assad Axis in the Middle East. After Cruz was booed off stage, Smith remarked how the "creepy" pro-Hezbollah crowd at the IDC conference was routed by the senator's defense of Western values.
The lack of hospitality shown to Cruz by the attendees confirms that there was in fact a problem with the conference from the beginning. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, The Algemeiner published my article detailing concerns raised by the Middle Eastern Christian Committee about IDC or MECHRIC, a consortium of pro-Christian activists in the United States. People involved in the conference seemed reluctant to address the mistreatment of Christians in Iran, and the role Assad and Hezbollah played in the oppression of Christians in Lebanon.
MECHRIC warned of a high degree of anti-Zionism associated with the conference. Writing before the conference took place, MECHRIC executive committee member John Hajjar warned about James Zogby's participation in the IDC event. Zogby, Hajjar reported, "has been the arch-foe of Christian minorities in Washington for years." Hajjar continued:
A long-time critic of Lebanese Christians, he has for decades rejected the rights of minorities to set themselves apart from Arab nationalism. Even in this conference he ignores the ethnic identity of Aramaic and Copts and insists on calling all the minorities—"Arab Christians." Zogby has been an ally of the anti-Israel Arab lobby and of the Islamist Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and continues to defend the totalitarian regime of Assad. How can a Middle East Christian conference trust its ideological message to the head of the anti-minorities lobby in the United States?Hajjar warned that observers need to be on the look out for a copycat conference to take place in Jerusalem.
As news of Cruz's mistreatment at the IDC's gala started to reverberate one conference attendee, Juliana Taimoorazy, executive director of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, moved to distance herself from the hostility shown by the hecklers. Taimoorazy, who attended the conference meetings but was not at the gala dinner, was shocked to hear that attendees would insult a potential future president of the United States and a standard-bearer for Evangelical Protestants in the U.S., a group that has been at the forefront in the effort to promote religious freedom in the Middle East.
"We should not insult an American senator who has come to address the persecution of Christians," she said. "The response was very unfortunate."
Taimoorazy fears that the heckling will distract people from the ongoing violence against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq.
"I appreciate Senator Cruz trying to bring this issue forward," Taimoorazy said. "Hate is hate, and murder is murder," she said, echoing Cruz's comments at the gala.