Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) delivers speeches all the time, but most of the time, they don't feature him leaving the stage while being booed. And yet, that's exactly what happened.
While the nation watched President Obama primetime address the threat of ISIS Wednesday night, something else was happening in Washington: Cruz was getting booed off the stage of a Christian event, according to MSNBC.
Cruz is often considered a rising darling of the American Christian right ... but Wednesday night, his Christian audience was largely Eastern and Arab. The brand of conservative, American evangelicalism that Cruz often champions - one that often aligns itself with the state of Israel's interests - did not sit well with everyone in attendance.
That's putting it mildly. A group called In Defense of Christians hosted a multi-day event in the nation's capital, and organizers invited Cruz to deliver the keynote address. The organization, which is committed to raising awareness of persecuted Christians and minority faith communities in the Middle East, held its gathering this week, and by all accounts, it had been a success - right up until Cruz's remarks, according to MSNBC.
Cruz initially received applause for his opening remarks that the group was united in defense of Christians, Jews, and "people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings," according to TIME.
Things turned sour within minutes. "ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East," Cruz said. "Sometimes we are told not to lump these groups together, but we have to understand their so-called nuances and differences. . . . In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state."
His audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel began to boo, according to TIME.
When the booing grew louder, the Republican senator said too many in the audience are "consumed with hate," which, of course, made things worse. Cruz, just before leaving the stage, concluded, "I will say this: If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you, and God bless you," according to MSNBC.
After the event, the Texan told a far-right website the audience showed "a shameful display of bigotry and hatred.... Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight."
Later Cruz reacted to the event on his Facebook page. "Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself 'In Defense of Christians,'" he wrote. "Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred. . . . Anti-Semitism is a corrosive evil, and it reared its ugly head tonight," TIME reported.
IDC's president Toufic Baaklini attempted to smooth over the situation. "As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians' inaugural Summit gala dinner: 'At every wedding, there are a few problems,'" he said in a statement following the incident. "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," according to TIME.
At its core, Cruz's problem was one of context. First, he pinned his remarks to the conflict between Israel and Hamas when one of the group's primary agenda points was actually the plight of Iraqi Christians. Second, Christians are far from a monolithic group, especially when it comes to views on policy on Israel and the Middle East. The American evangelicals Cruz typically addresses tend to be worlds apart historically, culturally, theologically, and politically from the Christian leaders in attendance, according to TIME.
Whether or not Cruz meant to rile up the crowd to rally his own base or whether it was all a giant mistake is hard to parse. Whatever the case, it caused quite a stir. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and another speaker at IDC's conference, calls Cruz's performance "bizarre" yet "expected." "Like most other blind ideologues on the far right, he cared not a bit for the reality and the sensitivities of Middle East Christians," he says. "If policy makers want to help Christians, they will first listen to them, before they try to lecture them. Having an 'I love Israel, and I don't care about the rest of the Arab World' mindset may work in US politics, but it's why we are in the mess we are in across the region," according to TIME.