Just over a year after giving Middle Eastern Christians advice that could have put them in danger, Sen. Ted Cruz has announced Syrian Christian refugees are not a threat and should be first in line to enter the U.S.
And some of his old critics say that’s a long-overdue change in tone.
On Sept. 10, 2014, Cruz headed to the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington to speak at the gala for a conference called “In Defense of Christians,” which brought together Christian leaders from throughout the Middle East to highlight the brutal persecution their congregants faced at the hands of the Islamic State.
The fact Cruz was speaking there at all caused waves in the conservative Beltway press. It started when the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier that day that some of the conference’s speakers and attendees had controversial affiliations; one speaker had previously defended Hezbollah, and another—years earlier—had touted a conspiracy theory about “Christians with Zionist orientations.”
Despite the bad press, Cruz took the stage that evening and launched into a speech, saying that everyone present was united by their commitment to defending persecuted Christians and Jews. He criticized ISIS, Hamas, al Qaeda, and Hezbollah, all to applause. But then he started talking about Israel.
“Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state,” he said, to a mixture of boos and applause. “Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hates America.”
A mixture of boos and applause followed.
“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, I will not stand with you,” he concluded, exiting the stage.
The next day, Cruz doubled down, defending his decision to walk out on the group. He even gave a statement to Breitbart saying the evening “deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred.”
“[B]igotry and hatred have no place in this discussion,” he continued in that statement. “Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight.”
Breitbart’s initial headline of one story even implied the event’s attendees weren’t really Christians.
The event’s organizers—who brought together a historic group of Christian leaders at a moment when their communities faced (and still face) genocide—weren’t impressed.
“He came to a summit in defense of Christians and actually endangered Christian lives,” said the group’s executive director, Andrew Doran, according to the National Catholic Register.
Doran noted to the paper that “standing with Israel”—as Cruz demanded that event attendees do—can make already-vulnerable Christians top targets for Islamist extremists. And in the case of the Syrian civil war, Christian bishops have pushed for their flocks to stay neutral. Middle Eastern geopolitics make for happy hour chit-chat in Washington; for Christians in that region, though, those stances are sometimes matters of life or death.
“People had come here trusting us not to put their lives in danger,” Doran continued to the paper. “People had come here for the sake of unity, and for politicians to take advantage of this for their own agenda is absolutely disgraceful.”
So while Cruz has apologized to conservative political pundits, he has never expressed remorse for demanding that attendees applaud Israel or for characterizing them as hateful bigots.
Since launching his presidential campaign, though, event organizers say Cruz’s tone has changed. In particular, they point to comments he made on Sunday about Syrian Christians.
“There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror,” Cruz said at a recent campaign stop in South Carolina, arguing that the U.S. should admit Christian refugees but not Muslim ones.
That particular debate arose in the wake of the terror attacks on Paris, as one of the shooters entered France by pretending to be a refugee.
“If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they, we would have a different national security situation,” he continued. “But it is precisely the Obama administration’s unwillingness to recognize that or ask those questions that makes them so unable to fight this enemy. Because they pretend as if there is no religious aspect to this.”
An adviser to the In Defense of Christians group told The Daily Beast that this new approach represents a change in tone for the senator, and a welcome one at that.
“Senator Cruz took an unfortunate posture at last year's IDC Summit considering the lives of some in the room were imperiled by what he said, and since some of the attendees were recent survivors of the invasion by Daesh, and others had lost family members to Daesh,” the advisor said.
“That said, we are pleased to now see Senator Cruz offer more thoughtful and constructive comments to improve, rather than imperil the Christians of the Middle East who seem to be forgotten when it comes to the soundness of the strategies and tactics to defeat Daesh, on the matters of refugee status, and qualifying Middle East Christians as victims of a genocide,” he continued.
Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz’s campaign, strongly disagreed that the senator’s tone on Middle Eastern Christians has changed.
“Cruz rightly spoke against those who loudly booed his support for Israel,” she said. “The entire purpose of the dinner, of which he was a keynote, was to support persecuted Christians in the Middle East, a cause for which he has consistently and strongly supported. I completely disagree with any assertion that he has changed his ‘tone.’”
Does Ted Cruz talk differently about marginalized populations depending on who’s listening—defending their integrity when it’s convenient and characterizing them as hateful bigots when needed? You decide.