By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I got a call from MSNBC on Friday asking me whether I was offended by Ted Cruz’s comments about New York values. I responded that I thought his comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek and was probably a swipe at The New York Times, which had attacked him that same morning. Indeed, I thought the exchange between Senator Cruz and Donald Trump on New York values last week was illuminating from both sides and brought out a unique eloquence in Trump as he spoke movingly about New Yorkers in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It was the most entertaining moment of the debate.
What really surprised me, however, was when I later saw that Cruz was being accused of antisemitism for his comments about New York values, as if he were criticizing Jews.
Let’s get real. You can love Ted Cruz and you can dislike Ted Cruz. I happen to be firmly in the former category and consider him a warm friend and a courageous leader. He’s a conviction politician and he’s bound to excite deep passion in voters, both for and against. But what you can’t do is accuse him of antisemitism. That is the stupidest, most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard. For Cruz is one of the staunchest, most dependable allies of Israel to ever exist in the United States Senate.
Cruz explained his remarks in an interview on “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”
“It is amusing seeing the media elite in New York and DC run around with their hair on fire at wondering what on earth are New York values. In the rest of the country people understand exactly what that is.”
Regardless of his explanation and regardless of what New York values actually are, the idea that Cruz would be accused of antisemitism should be offensive to all who cherish elected officials who show unshakable support for Israel.
Ted Cruz is a true philo-Semite, identifying deeply with the history, values and circumstance of the Jewish people.
About a year ago I took him to meet Elie Wiesel at the Nobel laureate’s home. A gifted orator, in front of Wiesel Cruz suddenly could not speak. He was quiet for a good few minutes. I asked him, in Wiesel’s presence, what was wrong. He told me he was remembering his father’s incarceration in Cuba and could scarcely imagine how even that compared to Auschwitz and the Nazi concentration camps. He spoke of the holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people. He was clearly moved beyond words to be in the presence of the world’s most famous survivor and the greatest living Jewish personality.
A few months later, Cruz joined me and Prof. Wiesel on a panel about the Iran deal at the United States Senate the night before Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress. He emphasized the extreme danger that the deal put Israel in and said he would do everything to fight it, which he did.
A deep and innate connection to Israel and the Jewish people has always been characteristic of Cruz.
During a talk he gave last year to In Defense of Christians, a nonpartisan organization “committed to the preservation and protection of Christians in the Middle East,” Cruz was booed loudly when he spoke of the importance of Israel. He cut his speech short, ending with, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.”
And with that he departed the stage.
In a speech given on September 11, 2013, he said, “In my view the United States of America should remain unshakably alongside our vital ally, the nation of Israel. We get an enormous dividend from the intelligence, from the resources, from the alliance on the ground, and it is beneficial to the United States of America to have an ally like Israel that is fighting alongside us in such a perilous part of the world where they are surrounded by terrorists who would do us harm and would do them harm.”
Cruz is unafraid to challenge leaders in positions of power whose moral vacillation on evil may harm Israel. With regard to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense he protested that, “His record on Israel strongly suggests that he views Israel not as our friend but as a nuisance. The US-Israeli alliance is critical to our national security, but Hagel has been far too willing to undermine that alliance. He was one of only four senators who refused to sign a letter urging the president to express solidarity with Israel and condemn the Palestinian campaign of violence. And he has stated that he believes Israel has “chained down” the Palestinians.”
During his time in office, Mr. Hagel proved a friend to Israel. But Mr. Cruz was right to call him out on his record.
While politicians the world over were prepared to go soft on Iran and its nightmarish nuclear ambitions, Mr. Cruz boldly stated, “We should have told them up front that their detention of our citizens and hostile rhetoric against the United States and our ally Israel is unacceptable, rather than engaging, without preconditions, in a negotiation that will provide the Iranian regime substantial sanction relief while doing nothing to curb – let alone end – its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.”
Then there was the bizarre incident of the FAA trying to shut down all US flights to Israel at the height of the Summer 2014 Gaza war. More than any other American lawmaker, Cruz fought this attempt to shut down all American travel to Israel. “The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands. Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action,” the senator continued.
Finally, Mr. Cruz can relate closely to Israelis and the toughness required to maintain the forces of justice and righteousness in the world’s most dangerous region. He once remarked, “The values of Israel and Texas are very similar: frontier independence and strength.”
Ted Cruz is a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people and exhibits unique courage in constantly standing in Israel’s defense.
I have my disagreements with the senator, most notably on the issue of gay rights, which I have discussed with him on many an occasions. He is a smart, knowledgeable, sensible man and you can discuss any issue with him. But agree or disagree on other issues, his actions in support of the Jewish state have been a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, as traditionally defined in the Jewish faith. He has shown the fortitude to stand up to the threats of those forces that would try to eliminate Israel and all the freedoms and values that this small yet courageous democracy holds dear.
Attempts to malign his outspokenness with accusations of antisemitism are repulsive in the extreme. We need more supporters of the Jewish state like Senator Cruz so that the vital America-Israel relationship will continue to the mutual benefit of both democratic nations.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He will shortly publish “The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.”