After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.
In a follow-up post published here, our Seth Mandel did a great job assessing some of the day after commentary and in particular the hypocrisy of some anti-Israel pundits who have suddenly discovered that, at least on this issue, they no longer think it is wrong for people to making decisions about politicians on the basis of their stands on the Middle East. Yet I think there is still something more to be said about the way some people who ought to know better are rationalizing the indefensible behavior of the In Defense of Christians (IDC) group and criticizing Cruz for his principled stand.
One of these that deserves some scrutiny is the New York Times’s Ross Douthat who joins in the pile-on against Cruz in his most recent column but attempts to do so without echoing the invective or the clear anti-Israel bias of those who write for, say, the American Conservative. Douthat acknowledges that the unsavory ties of some of its supporters are a problem for IDC. But he was critical of Cruz’s insistence on lecturing the group that instead of attacking Israel, they should recognize that the Jewish state is the best, and perhaps the only, friend they have in the Middle East.
For Douthat, this obvious statement of truth—in a region where Christians are universally treated as Dhimmi by Muslim regimes, Israel remains the only place where freedom of religion is guaranteed for adherents of all faiths—was a bridge too far for Cruz. More to the point, he thinks supporters of Israel are showing bad manners if not flawed strategy, by insisting that the cause of religious tolerance in the Middle East must include the Jews and their embattled state rather than merely treating the plight of Christians in isolation from the broader conflicts of the region.
Douthat writes in criticism of Cruz and his supporters:
Israel is a rich, well-defended, nuclear-armed nation-state; its supporters, and especially its American Christian supporters, can afford to allow a population that’s none of the above to organize to save itself from outright extinction without also demanding applause for Israeli policy as the price of sympathy and support.
There are two flawed assumptions to be unpacked in this sentence.
The first is that Israel is so strong and its position so unassailable that its friends can afford to be complacent about the mainstreaming of allies of terrorist groups—which is exactly what it seems that Cruz’s critics are asking.
The second is that the Islamist campaign to extinguish Christians and all other minority faiths in the Middle East can be resisted without the effort to do the same to Israel also being defeated.
It is, to put it mildly, a bit rich for a writer for the New York Times, which has through both slanted news coverage and biased editorial and op-ed pages, done its best to undermine Israel’s position, to demand that friends of the Jewish state stand down in its defense. That Douthat, who is otherwise the most thoughtful columnist in the paper, has rarely, if ever, voiced any dissent from the paper’s prevailing orthodoxy on Israel may be a function of his interests and that of the other putative conservative in the employ of the Times opinion section, neither of whom are, as a rule, all that interested in foreign policy (a stark contrast to the not so distant past when non-liberal writers at the Times such as William Safire and A.M. Rosenthal mounted repeated and spirited defenses of Israel to balance the attacks against it from fellow columnists, editorial writers, and reporters at the Grey Lady). But it is disappointing nonetheless.
But leaving aside Douthat’s chutzpah, that he should be treating Israel’s position as unassailable at this time shows that his knowledge of the Middle East really falls fall short of his normal sure footing on domestic and social issues. While I’m sure Christians in Iraq and Syria would gladly trade places with them, Israelis spent 50 days this summer dashing in and out of bomb shelters as Hamas terrorists launched rockets aimed to kill and maim civilians. Their army had to invade Gaza in order to demolish a vast network of cross-border tunnels aimed at facilitating acts of mass terror. They watched in horror as the streets of Europe were flooded with demonstrators denouncing Israelis for defending themselves against Islamist butchers in terms that recalled the worst excesses of the Nazi propaganda machine. And they also witnessed an American administration—ostensibly Israel’s sole superpower ally—doing its best to undermine Israel’s position, cutting off arms resupply and leaving the strategic alliance at its lowest point in more than 20 years.
Is this really a moment for Israel’s American supporters to put aside their scruples about making common cause with a group that is compromised by allies of those seeking to destroy Israel and to murder its population?
Just as important, the notion that the fight to save Christians can be separated from that of Israel is a pernicious myth that should be debunked. Douthat believes exposing the existence of Jew haters in the ranks of those purporting to represent Middle East Christians is a mistake because it shows no appreciation for the plight of Christians who face genocide. But by allying themselves with those who wish to perpetrate genocide on the other significant religious minority in the region, as some have repeatedly done in the last century of conflict, they have flung away their best hope for a strategic partner who could help them resist the Islamist tide. Religious persecution cannot be stopped against one minority while hatred against another is legitimized. As Seth wrote, Israel is already doing more to assist Christians than Douthat or the anti-Zionists at the American Conservative who claim to be their friends.
Today Christians are being slaughtered or forced to flee from Iraq and Syria to the point where soon once great communities may be extinguished. But while we rightly protest against this and lament such destruction, it is apt to also recall that a generation ago, some Christians and their foreign friends either assisted or stood by mutely while the same thing was happening to the once great Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world. American Christians of every denomination, including evangelicals and Catholics, are among the most faithful friends of Israel today. But the refusal of Middle East Christians to befriend the Zionist movement, even as it offered them the only possible counterforce in the region to a hostile Muslim majority, was a historic error. That this error is being repeated today is a tragedy for both sides.
Let me repeat, as I wrote on Thursday and many times before that, that Americans have a duty to rise up and demand that Western governments pay attention to the plight of Middle East Christians and to, if necessary, intervene on their behalf. But the notion that this struggle can be conducted in isolation from the defense of Israel against the same forces seeking to wipe out Christians is madness. That those who claim to care about these Christians believe that politicians like Ted Cruz should check their support for Israel at the door when discussing the Middle East is an indication of just how little some of them understand the region as well as their cluelessness about the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe.