Posted by on September 23, 2014 in News Clips

Sandri's comment drew a strong round of applause. But the feelings of unity were soured just one day later, when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another keynote speaker, told the IDC crowd, including Christians from Palestine and Lebanon, "Christians have no greater ally than Israel."

The senator's comment so angered the audience and elicited such a strong refrain of boos that Cruz was eventually forced to walk off stage. "If you do not stand with Israel and the Jews," he said before exiting, "then I will not stand with you."

In the aftermath, many accused the 2016 presidential hopeful of taking a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to an exceedingly sensitive cultural and religious situation, and of hijacking the conference for his own political gain.

Cruz himself called the incident "a shameful display of bigotry and hatred," in a statement to Breitbart News. Elsewhere, the political right rushed to defend, nay, praise the tea party senator. "What a display of spine, poise, and grace," wrote Jay Nordlinger in the National Review.

The controversy showed just how susceptible the American movement to assist Middle East Christian minorities is to political interference, and confirmed suspicions that the inclusion of polarizing right-wing political figures like Cruz or John Ashcroft -- another keynote speaker at the conference -- would only serve to hobble the effort.

Before the IDC conference, Arab American Institute President Jim Zogby, an advisory board member to IDC, told NCR, "I'm wary of the role that people like Ted Cruz or Christian evangelicals from the right who get involved in this might play, because I fear that they almost want to reduce this to a tribal conflict."

Speaking again to NCR the day following the incident, Zogby lamented the effect of Cruz's participation. "There are pages and pages of articles on Google today about the conference," he said, "and there is only one that I saw that wasn't about Ted Cruz."

Zogby continued: "I'm still debating whether he was setting up a Sister Souljah moment for himself, or whether he was flummoxed by a reaction he didn't expect. Either way, ignorance or malevolent intent, the effect was the same. ... It was just an awful, awful display."

La Civita, of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, himself a panelist at the IDC event, pulled no punches. "Ted Cruz's only crusade," he said, "Ted Cruz's only interest, is Ted Cruz."

"Many of the people in that room were victims of persecution," La Civita said. "Many of them were victims of oppression. Most of those Christians in the room were from areas that remain technically at war with Israel, and to be told that the state of Israel is your best ally, well, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

"And potentially dangerous back home," he added.

But La Civita urged journalists and others to downplay the kind of "political stunt" he thinks Cruz pulled at IDC. The stakes are too high, he says, the meaning too significant.

"This is not just about religious freedom," he said. "This is about the restoration of pluralistic societies in the Middle East. This is about nation states enabling their citizens to prosper and thrive, based not on their religious identity, but on what they can provide to the building up of the community. This is much broader than just in defense of Christians."

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