It would be overstating the case to say a star was born when Senator Ted Cruz walked out of a dinner with Middle East Christians after his expressions of solidarity with Israel were greeted with boos and catcalls. Cruz is, after all, already a star to millions of Americans. But it would not be overstating it to say that it was a moment much appreciated by the American Jews and others with whom I’ve spoken (others no doubt disagree) and who have been waiting for a politician to say, as Cruz did: “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, I will not stand with you.”
What Cruz was doing was laying down the kind of marker that I have long argued needs to be put down from time to time. It’s a point I made, say, back in the first Gulf War, when President George H.W. Bush excluded Israel from a combat role in the coalition that went up against Saddam Hussein. Bush feared that by admitting Israel he risked losing Arab allies. My feeling was that it would be better to fight alone than to shrink from admitting Israel to the coalition’s ranks.
Cruz spoke at a gala of an organization called “In Defense of Christians.” Its website says its aim is “bringing attention in the United States and the western world to the plight of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East.” Its cause is noble, urgent, and newsworthy. Its website says it focuses on Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria and “Holy Land: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories.” It’s encouraging that the group would pick Mr. Cruz for a keynote address in the first place.
Nor was Cruz the only friend of the Jews at the three-day event. It featured Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the fastest-friends of Israel in Congress, and Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s religious freedom center, plus a raft congressmen and veterans of the government. Reports suggest that much of the conference proceeded in a constructive spirit. But in the reception to Senator Cruz there surfaced an aggressive and hostile element.
Cruz began, according to a transcript published by the American Conservative, by noting that the gathering was meeting at a time of “extraordinary challenge.” He said: “Tonight, we are all united in defense of Christians.” He added, “Tonight, we are all united in defense of Jews.” And then, “Tonight we are all united in defense of people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who would dare disagree with their religious beliefs.”
The senator referred to the depredations of ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and their state sponsors. “Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice, a humanitarian crisis. Christians are being systematically exterminated.” He then recalled that in 1948 Middle East Jews “faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.” That is when boos and catcalls erupted. The senator said, “Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hate America. And those who hate Jews, hate Christians.”
“And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps, that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with 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].” Continued Cruz: “And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children, are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason. [applause, murmuring, objections]. I will say this. I am saddened [shouting].”
Here the president of In Defense of Christians came onto the stage to urge respect for the senator, after which Cruz said: “I will say this, I am saddened, to see that some here — not all but some here — are so consumed with hate [no, boos], that they cannot enjoy [unintelligible, boos]. I will say this, if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you, and God bless.” Then, to more boos, he left.
There are those who fault the senator, rather than his hecklers, for poisoning the occasion by injecting Israel into a discussion in which it was, supposedly, not an issue. The Week magazine ran out an attack on Cruz under the headline: “Ted Cruz and the most cynical, despicable political stunt of the year.” Ross Douthat, in a NYT column headlined “Friendless Christians,”  seems to list Cruz as among those who are not friends of Middle East Christians and suggests— “almost certainly,” is his phrasing — that Cruz framed his remarks the way he did because the audience included persons who were hostile to Israel.
It strikes me that no one who invited Ted Cruz to such an event could have done so for Cruz to pull his punches. He is famous for straight talk. We are in a season in which the American administration’s spokesmen disagree on whether we are at war, and when diplomats maneuver to defer Jerusalem to the end rather than the beginning of the peace process. It's a time when politicians and pundits are often loathe to name the ideology of our enemies and when a distinction is often drawn between hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews. My own view is that in this kind of climate Ted Cruz deserves congratulations.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.