Why did Mideast Christians heckle pro-Israel Ted Cruz?

This past Wednesday night, Senator Ted Cruz did a courageous thing. He walked out on an audience that suddenly showed itself to be anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish. The dinner audience was part of a conference called “In defense of Christianity,” made up of mostly Middle Eastern Christian groups persecuted by Islamic jihadists. When he remarked that in this war against Islamic terror we need to stand with Israel and the Jewish people, he was booed…repeatedly. Finally, Cruz said: “If you can’t stand with Israel and the Jewish people, I cannot stand with you. Good night and God bless,” and he walked off the stage. Senator Cruz, like so many, did not come to this meeting realizing the difference between Middle Eastern Christians and those here in America who have been Israel’s biggest supports and our closest friends as Jews.

What is behind the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish attitudes of many Christians from the Middle East? It is because many are Arab and there is great anti-Semitism in the Arab world. Second: They live in Moslem dominated societies and are bombarded daily with anti-Jewish, anti-Israel propaganda. They soon accept the propaganda and begin purveying it themselves. While their religion is Christian, they, as Arabs and Middle Easterners, are culturally, attitudinally, and in ways of habit similar to Moslems in outlook. Many have family members married to Moslems.

They also retain the original anti-Jewish attitude from the early Eastern Christian years, based on a Replacement Theology justified by claiming the Jews were sinful and therefore replaced by Christians. The re-establishment of the State of Israel was a theological blow for many Mideast Christians who were certain God no longer favored the Jewish people. They remain in denial regarding the existence of a Jewish state. They don’t want it.

Many consider the Jews alien and European, since many Christians are Arab or partially Arab. They will not let themselves feel part of a Jewish state. So, when in the late 1960s the Moslems in the region began identifying themselves as "Palestinians," the Christian Arabs also began identifying as Palestinians as a way to distinguish themselves from Israelis/Jews. (Ironically, up until the 1948 re-creation of Israel, the Jewish residents were called Palestinians, a name originally given to them by the Romans.)

Many feel part of the "Palestinian" rebellion and, like the Moslems, many would like to see the removal of the Jewish State. No doubt, many have been terrorized and threatened by local Islamic groups and have cast their lot with them so as to survive.

Perhaps, the most important point is that they are not Americans. Americans, be they Protestant, Catholic or secular, are a very open, gregarious, and tolerant people. But, in the Arab/Moslem Mideast, much is based on tribalism, clan, ethnic or religious identity. These are not societies built on the openness and free-flow we have here. Americans are exemplary people when it comes to openness. In contrast, many European Catholics still remain anti-Jewish, as are many of the Latinos coming here from south of the border. Perhaps in a generation or so the Middle East Christians who have settled here may become less anti-Jewish.

Finally, there is the envy factor. Many are jealous that Israel has produced a strong, independent country whereas Christians have not done so in the Mideast. Israel chose independence and great sacrifice, whereas the Christian communities allowed themselves to be subsumed under the Islamic majority. They made alliances with Moslem groups. Perhaps, their Christian ideals taught them not to fight, a form of pacifism. Whatever the case, their way to answer that failure seems to be condemning Israel. Israel, in their mind, is somehow foreign to the region and doesn't belong there; the familiar scapegoating routine of Jews being "too successful, too wealthy, too represented."  In other words, the Jews are guilty... because they are successful.

All this points to one thing: American Christians are blessedly different than what was and is the case in Europe and the Middle East. Believing as they do in the Old Testament, they see the State of Israel as an affirmation of biblical prophecies, and the resurgence of a strong Jewish people a result of God’s Favor. They see us as partners in a unique and American Judeo-Christian experience.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero is author of Push Back and president of Caucus for America.