What is there to add to the extremely rich vein of commentary elicited by Ted Cruz’s shameless Israel lobby pandering at a Washington forum intended to call attention to the plight of Mideast Christians in the age of ISIS? The pieces by Ross Douthat, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and the several posts by Rod Dreher say a great deal of what needs to be said, making many points I would likely never have thought of.
One takeaway from the controversy, which continues to reverberate around the conservative blogosphere, is how many socially conservative/Christian/Republican-leaning thinkers have sensed, perhaps for the first time in their relatively young careers, how morally flawed is the entire Christian Zionist/McCainist/Commentary/Washington Free Beacon/Likudnik group, whose views have long driven “mainstream” conservative foreign-policy opinion in Congress and the GOP presidential primaries. I think this may grow into an important schism on the right, one that weakens neoconservatism, to the Republican Party’s long-term benefit. I don’t want to ascribe views to people who don’t necessarily have them, but when I see young conservatives reacting viscerally against the tweets from the Breitbart site and other movement conservatives, tweets putting scare quotes around the word “Christian” in order to denigrate the Mideast patriarchs and bishops and other figures who attended the gathering, attacking them because they failed some sort of “stand with Israel” litmus test, it feels like a kind of Kronstadt moment. This sentiment also comes when I see the disgust felt when Weekly Standard editor Lee Smith implies that Mideast Christians are simply a kind of ISIS lite. I witnessed personally a comparable repulsion a year or so ago, when an old friend, long a prudently neocon-friendly author and Wall Street Journal writer, reacted to the smearing of Chuck Hagel by the same group. It’s as if the Israel lobby has grown so accustomed to the deference accorded it by everyone else in the American political system, it has lost any sense of its own limits.
Still there are other points to be made. Several of Cruz’s critics responded as if the Mideast Christians who came to the gathering deserved a sort of indulgent understanding for their lack of enthusiasm for Cruz’s admonition that Israel is their greatest friend. It was sometimes noted as historical fact that most Palestinian Christians live under Israeli occupation, and that others were ethnically cleansed by Israel in 1948; that the Lebanese Christians had once been Israel’s allies, which had not worked out well for them: in other words, all these groups had understandable excuses for their chilliness towards Israel. These Christians are, according to this discourse, genuinely vulnerable—they can be forgiven for not loving Israel. But this argument—and there are elements of it in most of the conservative pieces which chastized Cruz—scants the fact that Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine is also opposed, often quite publicly and with increasing energy, by ever growing numbers of non-Mideast Christians.
I wonder if Cruz would similarly walk out and denounce Pope Francis as an anti-Semite, considering the new Pope visited the Holy Land and expressed his wishes for dignity and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and said a prayer outside the Israeli wall that severs Bethlehem from neighboring Jerusalem and has largely rendered the town of Jesus’s birth a walled off ghetto. (The Israeli right went into conniptions about the Pope’s visit, with the incomparable Caroline Glick accusing the Pope of licensing “Holocaust denial” by his prayer at the Bethlehem separation wall.) If there is an argument that the Pope, with his stand in support of peace and dignity for both peoples in the Holy Land, is some kind of outlier among Catholics, I have not yet heard it.