I had to read the penultimate paragraph of Ross Douthat’s New York Times piece on “friendless Middle East Christians” before the enormity of it sunk in. Douthat wrote:
If Cruz felt that he couldn’t address an audience of persecuted Arab Christians without including a florid, “no greater ally” preamble about Israel, he could have withdrawn from the event. The fact that he preferred to do it this way says a lot–none of it good–about his priorities and instincts.
In so many words: Jew-hatred among Middle Eastern Christians is so rampant that it should be ignored in the interests of saving this oppressed minority. Never mind that it is impossible to conceive of any strategic configuration on the Middle East that might help Middle Eastern Christians without including Israel; never mind that Israel’s supporters in the United States are among the first to urge America to act on their behalf; and, above all, never mind that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians can practice their religion in security and safety, and that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population.
The statement is outrageous, capping a long list of inaccuracies. The problem is NOT, as Douthat argues, that “the Middle East’s Christians simply don’t have the kind of influence to matter” in American strategic calculations. The problem is that Middle East Christians threw in with (and some helped invent) a movement directly opposed to American interests in the region, namely the Arab nationalism embodied in the Ba’ath Party. I reviewed this sad history in a 2009 essay reposted on this site.
No-one proposes to blame the afflicted Christians of the Middle East for previous choices under duress: they had no good choices, and hardly can be faulted for bad ones. Unlike some of my conservative friends, moreover, I can’t blame Syrian Christians for supporting the Assad regime, which protects them from murdering Sunni jihadists. It isn’t about blame, but about the future–if there is one. Israel has a prominent role in any possible state of the world in which Christianity continues to exist in the Middle East (outside of Israel itself).
As I observed in the linked essay, the Catholic Church remains in the grip of nostalgia for its past influence in the region, and a great many of its Middle Eastern specialists simply cannot abide the idea that Israel might be the home to the remnant of Middle Eastern Christianity as well as the protector of Christian minorities elsewhere. But that is how things have worked out. That’s reality, and it’s the job of political leaders like Sen. Cruz to explain reality to their constituents. That’s not “florid.” That’s leadership.
An analogy might be useful: Evangelical Christians are among Israel’s strongest supporters in America, yet some Jews–including liberals as well as Christianophobic ultra-Orthodox–reject this support. That is hysteria. Israel’s supporters in America are among the strongest defenders of Middle Eastern Christians, yet some Middle Eastern Christians reject this support. That is also hysteria. Jews who reject Christian support are crazy, and Middle Eastern Christians who reject Jewish support are crazy. It’s the job of leaders to tell them so.