Some in the crowd booed Cruz when he said, “Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.” And before leaving the stage, Cruz said, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
Kristina Olney, director of legislative relations and outreach with IDC, said Cruz’s remarks “derailed the conversation” by bringing up Israel, the subject of debate in some Middle Eastern countries.
“We need to turn the focus back to Christians in the Middle East who are suffering,” Olney told CNSNews.com. “We need to unify and speak up for them.
“It should not be about politics,” she added.
Still, Olney said, it was only a small minority in the crowd of church leaders from the Middle East and around the globe who were critical of Cruz’s remarks, and it was disappointing that Cruz focused on those individuals.
“(Cruz) chose to stand against a small group instead of standing with the majority in that room who were looking to him for his leadership on this issue,” Olney said. “Instead he chose to walk away with words of condemnation to the minority in that room rather than words of hope for the families of those who are suffering in the Middle East.”
But Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s press secretary, told CNSNews.com that the hecklers at the event were to blame for the negative outcome.
“I would suggest that the only divisiveness at the event was from a small minority in the crowd that disagreed with the senator’s support for Israel,” Frazier said.
Frazier said she was aware of media reports that imply Cruz’s remarks about Israel were meant to appeal to potential voters in the 2016 presidential race rather than the leaders from Christian churches in the Middle East.
The Washington Post published a story that quoted Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who was described by the reporter as a “moderate” Republican and, while not directly quoting Dent, said the congressman “wondered if the senator’s intent was to inflame the audience in order to gain traction with Tea Party activists ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run.”
"I support Israel, but what Senator Cruz did was outrageous and incendiary," Dent told the Post. "He showed a true lack of sensitivity for the people he was speaking to, especially the religious leaders who were there.
“It was a political speech, inappropriate and, overall, an uncomfortable moment,” Dent added.
However, Frasier said Cruz’s remarks were not political but in keeping with his support for Israel.
“Whenever the senator’s stance on support for Israel is opposed, he will never fail to defend it,” Frasier said.
In a statement following the speech, Cruz said opposition to Israel is equivalent to opposition to the United States and Christians.
“When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded,” Cruz said in the statement.
“But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.
“I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America, that those who hate Jews also hate Christians, and that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ,” he said.
“I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel,” Cruz said. “And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike,” Cruz said.
IDC President Toufic Baaklini also issued a statement following Cruz’s speech, saying those who heckled him were at fault for injecting politics and that they “were made no longer welcome.”
“In this case, 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,” Baaklini said.
“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,” Baaklini added.
“They were made no longer welcome,” Baaklini said.