B’nai B’rith is troubled that a gathering in Washington, D.C., to support Christians persecuted by radical Islamists has been overshadowed by a display of animosity toward Israel.
During the “In Defense of Christians” (IDC) summit, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was shouted down when he spoke positively about Israel.
During a speech at an evening gala, Cruz noted that some urge differentiating between “ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas”—and rejected this approach, asserting, “Hate is hate, and murder is murder.” He continued: “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”
In response, some members of the audience loudly booed the senator, shouting “go home” and “get off the stage.” Cruz retorted that “Those who hate Israel hate America. 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.”
In the face of hecklers disregarding appeals for civility from a conference leader and some other attendees, Cruz concluded, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
Organizers urged the conference to continue its focus on the plight of Middle East Christians and issued a statement reporting 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 our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will. Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome.”
B’nai B’rith shares concern for Christians and other minorities facing severe threats and violence in the Middle East. One senior cleric suggested at the IDC dinner that media representatives present “keep it in the room”—referring to the outburst of hate and hypocrisy. However, these sentiments must be recognized and addressed by Christian leaders. Among the prominent Middle Eastern clerics visiting the United States to advocate for the region’s Christians is Gregorios III Laham, the Melkite patriarch of the (Greek Catholic) Church of Antioch, who has a history of vitriolic statements about Zionism and the national homeland of the Jewish people.
Just as the entire international community must rally to protect the fundamental rights and dignity of Christians in places like Iraq and Syria, Christian leaders and faithful, along with others, are morally obliged do the same for Jews in the Middle East. There can be no condoning or belittling the Islamist extremists doctrinally committed to the violent destruction of the Middle East’s democratic Jewish state.
Fortunately, so many Christians stand firmly with Israel and the Jewish people. But decades of anti-Israel animus, and centuries of anti-Judaism, have made a very significant imprint in the Middle East, and this moral disfigurement is not limited to components of the region’s Muslim population. If efforts for peace, and to protect Middle Eastern Christians, are to succeed, there must be recognition that “love your neighbor as yourself” applies to the people of Israel as much as to any other human beings.
Some 1,000 attendees at the first IDC summit were joined by an array of senior Christian clergy from the region. A long list of Democratic and Republican members of Congress addressed the conference, including Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Also in attendance: the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, and the Catholic archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and prominent public figures including former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. The theme of the gathering was a unified appeal for the safety of Middle Eastern Christians—and for religious freedom for all—a cause broadly embraced by speakers and attendees at the conference.