Honestly, as a Palestinian married to a Jew, I am both compelled and repelled by the situation in the Middle East.
My dad was born in the Holy Land, and he was just ten years old when his mother left dinner cooking on the stove in the rush to get her five children out of the country during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 (i.e., the establishment of the modern state of Israel). The young Catholic family fled to Egypt, forever leaving behind everything they had and knew. They were even for a while without their husband and father, as my grandfather ended up in a refugee camp somewhere in the desert, his wife and children not knowing for six months if he were dead or alive. Can you imagine?
The situation in the Middle East is delicate. It is complicated. It is nuanced. It has a history going back thousands of years, which is hard for Americans to grasp. I support Israel, but I do not support every action of Israel. I love the Jewish people, and I love my fellow Christian Arabs. I abhor the violence and persecution that is occurring in the Middle East by radical, brutal Islamists with no conscience, and I believe that unfathomable evil must be stopped. I stand with my Christian brothers and sisters who are undergoing hardships that we in the west cannot (yet) imagine, and that is why I am so disturbed by what Senator Ted Cruz said and did the other night at a gathering meant to support those suffering Christians.
I know the organizer of the In Defense of Christians Summit (IDC), and it is heartbreaking that the only narrative coming out of the days-long event are reports of "bigotry" leveled at persecuted Christians who are now being accused of supporting terrorists. This unfortunate outcome is largely thanks to Ted Cruz's stepping in doo-doo, then walking off the stage when his ill-advised comments were not embraced. He continues his self-righteous grandstanding in the regular and social media, and I can't make sense of his tone-deafness, arrogance, lack of finesse, and/or lack of geopolitical knowledge and insight. I honestly thought he was smarter than that.
But I guess I am getting ahead of myself.
If you are not familiar with the story, here's an overview of what happened that night:
Click and read the whole article, but here is an excerpt:
...When Cruz took the stage, however, after two days of declarations of Christian unity and recognition of the widespread persecution of peoples of all faiths, his remarks emphasized his devotion to the state of Israel. The crowd applauded faithfully as Cruz made the argument that ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, as well as Syria and Iran, were all equal participants in genocidal bigotry. Cruz then transitioned. After saying, “Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice. A humanitarian crisis. Christians, are being systematically exterminated,” Cruz then turned to the 1948 formation of Israel, a sensitive subject for many Palestinian Christians, and declared that "today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.”
It was at that point that some in the audience objected to Cruz turning a celebration of Christian unity into a lecture on a divisive subject that many in the crowd experienced as part of their everyday lives. Cruz returned accusations of hatred. Even then, most of the crowd tried to reconcile with him as Cruz continued on to speak about “Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals [applause] who seek to—[applause]. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ [applause].” As he continued to press the issue, however, the crowd increasingly urged him to “move on” and booed, leading him to lament those “consumed with hate” and depart.
More analysis for those who are not familiar with the geopolitical realities of the region:
When Cruz was supposed to give the keynote address and discuss the deadly serious topic of persecution of Christians, he instead 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.
Yeah, that's not so smart.
Christians who are persecuted have political views that may not align with U.S. interests. Who knew? For many of us, our concern about genocide of Christians isn’t limited to those who are perfectly aligned with our views.Ya think?
One can certainly argue in support of Cruz’s statement — politically, at least — and yet also recognize how fraught the topic is for Christians in the region.Exactly.
It's worth noting here that Ted Cruz is an evangelical Christian, and evangelical Christians have a different biblical and political understanding of the modern state of Israel than Catholics do. Catholics know that the "new Israel" is the Church. By contrast, evangelicals view the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 as some sort of biblical fulfillment with heavy eschatological implications. Ted Cruz is an evangelical, and that influences (and skews) his understanding of things.
The Church herself is very sensitive to the plight of Palestinians and of Christians in the Middle East. While supportive of Israel's right to exist, the Church has always been prudent and measured in how she speaks of these delicate issues. Catholics must think with the mind of the Church, even more than we think of American or Israeli (or any nation's) interests. American Catholics too often default to the Protestant understanding of things in this predominately Protestant culture, but we would do well to stand with the understanding and experiences of our fellow Catholics -- the bishops, priests, and laity of the actual region.
I regret that the hard efforts of so many people working for unity and to help our persecuted brethren has turned into something divisive. Cruz is no dummy; he should have been savvy enough to know better, and he should not continue to agitate and grandstand this issue now. It's also sad (if predictable) that many in the media have taken to sound-byte sensationalism instead of taking time and care to give us real perspective, real journalism.
But hope springs eternal, and Christ will bring good out of this unnecessary debacle. From IDC president Toufic Baaklini:
For more than 48 hours, our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics. It has not been easy, and not without challenges. Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that the [IDC] is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside.
Amen, and Lord have mercy.
**UPDATE: Here's an excellent summary of what happened in that room, from Catholic Vote...
What I saw at the "In Defense of Christians" Summit
And here's an excellent interview with IDC Executive Director, Andrew Doran, who is the brother of a dear friend of mine. He explains all the amazing and seemingly impossible things that were accomplished at the summit, despite the Ted Cruz sideshow: