Ted Cruz booed off stage at Middle East Christian meeting. Why?

Sen. Ted Cruz gave a keynote address Wednesday at a gala sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a group whose objective is to focus public attention on the plight of persecuted Middle East Christian groups.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Senator Ted Cruz (R) of Texas holds a news conference with several Republican House members about immigration and border security, at the US Capitol in Washington September 9, 2014. Cruz gave a keynote address Wednesday at an event meant to focus public attention on the plight of persecuted Middle East Christian groups.

Why was Ted Cruz booed off the stage while speaking at an event meant to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East?

Because he mentioned Israel, that’s why.

Here’s the background: On Wednesday night, the Texas GOP senator gave a keynote address at a gala sponsored by a group named In Defense of Christians. The organization’s objective is to focus public attention on the plight of persecuted Middle East Christian groups.

Near the end of his speech, Senator Cruz said, “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” At this point, some in the audience started to boo, according to eyewietness accounts and video of the incident.

Cruz continued with, “Those who hate Israel hate America. Those who hate Jews hate Christians.” At that point, the boos got louder and things began to get out of hand.

Eventually, Cruz decided he could not continue. He said, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you and God bless you.” He walked offstage to a decidedly mixed response.

What happened here? The most likely explanation is that Palestinian Christians who feel oppressed by Israel as well as Muslim groups were expressing their negative opinion of Cruz’s words.

“On the Ted Cruz thing, obvious point: Lots of Palestinian Christians out there. Other Arab Christians not so fond of Israel, etc,” tweeted Politico deputy editor Blake Hounshell.

The conservative Washington Free Beacon charged that the conference also featured speakers linked to support of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Cruz’s host attributed the problems to a handful of agitators. Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, said in a statement issued afterward that “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 by our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

For his part, Cruz said in a statement issued after the event that “anti-Semitism ... reared its ugly head tonight.”

In terms of US politics, Cruz’s actions went down very well with his supporters. Conservative commentators showered praise on the Texas senator (and possible 2016 presidential candidate) for his words.

“What a display of spine, poise, and grace,” wrote Jay Nordlinger in the right-leaning National Review.

But some on the left figured it was quite possible that Cruz knew what he was getting into and stirred up controversy for attention’s sake.

“Hijacking a conference about solidarity with Arab Christians with calls for an Arab-Christian – Jewish alliance probably won’t end well,” wrote Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of the generally left-leaning Talking Points Memo. “With Ted Cruz involved there are so many moving parts it’s hard to untangle the derp.”

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