Some of the things I don’t claim to know about the Ted Cruz-IDC kerfuffle:
1 – I don’t know what Cruz was thinking when he told attendees at The IDC Summit for Middle East Christians that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.” Maybe he was baiting the crowd and looking for a reason to walk off the stage. If so, he’s doing an excellent job being a politician.
2 – I don’t know whether it was only a “vocal and angry minority of attendees,” as Cruz contends, who participated in this “shameful display of bigotry and hatred.” The IDC says “a few politically motivated opportunists” were at fault. But since so many pundits – many of whom I respect – have taken to condemning Cruz, it’s fair to say that the reaction to the reaction is worth reacting to.
3 – I don’t know if it’s an affront – theologically speaking – to Christian denominations in the Middle East to hear that they have no greater ally in the world than the Jews. And I have no standing to judge whether the crowd was “reflecting the teachings of Christ” or not.
But when it comes worldly matters, here’s what I think I know: There’s only one country in the Middle East that doesn’t persecute – or allow the persecution of – Christians. And, in today’s world, that makes them an ally of the oppressed.
As Cruz points out:
Those who hate Jews hate Christians. If those in this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps. 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, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason.”
@McCormackJohn Telling M.E. Christians they “have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” the line that touched off the booing, is risible.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) September 11, 2014
No, Israel’s not going to drop commandos in to rescue the Coptic or send an airlift for the Assyrians– any more than the United States can or would. (Though, sometimes, I wonder why.) But in the Middle East, secularism is far less dangerous to Christians than theocracy. Assad, then, might be a better option than ISIS, but Israel is better option than any of them. Because, generally speaking, Israel shares the same enemies, the same broader geopolitical aims and the same moral outlook. Which, today, makes it the only nation to ally with Christians in the Middle East.*
The best testament to how Jews feel about Middle Eastern Christians can be seen in how they treat them. According to a 2013 Israeli census, the Christian population in Israel has been growing over the years. The only stable Christian population in the Middle East. There are 158,000 Christians in Israel (many of them Arab, and some of them Russians who were offered asylum through The Law of Return). And on average, they were better educated than Jews, and just as prosperous. The Israeli government has actively attempted to better integrate Christian Arabs, who are politically dissimilar from many Muslim Israeli Arabs. It must be working to some extent. According to Time magazine, there’s been a big increase in Arab Christians enlisting in the Israeli army, “doubling the number of each of the preceding three years.” Israel should do more to make it happen.
What threatens the Christian population in Israel? It’s what threatens them everywhere. According to the census takers, “there were fears that Muslim intimidation in cities in northern Israel, where many of them live, are causing large numbers to consider emigrating to the West.”
The decimation of Middle Eastern Christians isn’t new. It’s long-term project reminiscent of the destruction Middle East Jewry– which began when over 750,000 Jews were driven out or left the Middle Eastern countries not named Israel beginning the late 1940s. This round of forced conversions, beheadings, bombings, church burnings and massacres is merely a mop-up operation. Around 20 percent of the Middle East’s population a century ago, the Christian population makes up around four percent today. There’s no polling I could find on the topic, but is there any doubt that the only nation whose population feels any empathy for this suffering is in Israel?
That’s not to say it isn’t a complicated and sometimes ugly relationship. In the 70s and early 80s, for instance, Israel aided Lebanese Maronites against a Muslim-leftist alliance, only to later abandon them. When the issue of Palestinian statehood was driven by nationalistic goals, Christians led some of the most radical terror groups against Israel. Today, Hamas is driven by largely theocratic intentions, and Christian participation is not welcome. Hamas, in fact, has driven most Christians from Gaza, while Jews protect Christians and their holy sites in the West Bank. Sounds like an ally to me.
Contending that Jews are part of the same fight is hardly risible. And if Arab Christians of the IDC aren’t offended by the thought of allying themselves with Hezbollah to fight ISIS, how could they be so horribly insulted to hear that Israel is their partner, as well? How could someone like Charlie Dent claim that making this association is “outrageous” and “incendiary?” At the very most, it is harmless, even if Cruz was wrong. But, as one of my Twitter followers asked, if you believe there’s a “greater ally” in the Middle East name it.