On his first day as president, Ted Cruz will revoke the Iran nuclear deal. Then he will order the American Embassy in Tel Aviv to be moved to Jerusalem. After that he might call up Benjamin Netanyahu and tell him that the United States will no longer criticize Jewish settlements in the West Bank or press for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. It’s up to the Israelis to make their own decisions, Cruz will say.
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Of course it’s hard to believe any president would choose to start his tenure by plunging America into an immediate confrontation with Iran or an acute crisis of confidence with China, Russia and the European Union, which is what would happen if Cruz unilaterally abrogates the Iran deal to which they are signatories. Nor would it seem sensible to inflame relations with Arab and Muslim countries by moving the embassy to Jerusalem at the very moment that Cruz would need them to counter the now unconstrained Iranian regime. But you never know: perhaps Cruz is a man of his word and crazy enough to try.
Cruz’s victory in Iowa has turned him into a formidable contender for the Republican nomination for president, a prospect relished by his ardent Evangelical supporters as well as his most die-hard Democratic opponents. As the least liked Republican candidate among his GOP peers and the general public, many Republicans and Democrats agree with former presidential candidate Bob Dole’s assessment that Cruz could lead the party to “cataclysmic losses” in the 2016 elections. Even Bernie Sanders would be a shoo-in, some observers contend, if he ran against Cruz.
In fact, of all the GOP candidates left in the race after the Wednesday departure of Rand Paul and Rick Santorum, Cruz would have the hardest time picking up American Jewish votes. Senator Marco Rubio as well as governors John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush could make the most out of the relatively widespread Jewish disaffection with President Barack Obama, from which Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina might also benefit. Cruz, with his Evangelical fervor and preachy manner, would be a hard sell indeed.
Even those American Jews who adhere to an absolutist “Israel good, Arab bad” point of view or are such strong supporters of Israel’s right wing that they are wary of Netanyahu’s occasional flashes of moderation or believe Obama is the worst president in modern times and that he has endangered the lives of millions of Israelis, as Cruz has said - even they will probably think twice or thrice before deciding to support him. American Jews are by far the most liberal group in America; for most of them, Cruz is a Christian bridge too far.
It’s true that Cruz has cultivated and made inroads among Orthodox Jews who share his unequivocal views on Israel and also feel comfortable with his advocacy of Judeo-Christian values and constant invocation of the Almighty: “To God the Glory,” he said in his victory speech in Iowa. In a December 2014 Siena poll of Jewish New Yorkers that did not include Trump, Cruz actually led GOP candidates with 34% compared to 27% given to Marco Rubio. In Brooklyn’s Borough Park and in Upstate Monsey, Cruz might as well be king.
Many Orthodox Jews support Cruz’s unflinching rejection of Common Core, abortions, women’s rights, gay marriage and whatever else they perceive as government efforts to impose secular values on them. They share Ted Cruz’s disdain for what he has described as “New York values,” even if - and perhaps especially if - he was dog whistling about Jews, as some of his critics maintain. They are just as disgusted as Cruz by the liberal and secular values espoused by so many of their brethren in Williamsburg, Soho and the Upper West Side. The very last person in the world that they would vote for is their fellow Jew Bernie Sanders.
But Cruz might also be the favored candidate of less pious right wing Jews who are single-issue voters and for whom the Texas senator’s strong views on Israel are the only thing that matters. Although Miriam and Sheldon Adelson have yet to commit their substantial resources to supporting Cruz or any of the other candidates – at least as far as is known – there are ample indications that they might be inclined to do so if and when Cruz shows that his Iowa victory was not a fluke. Both Adelsons made personal donations to Cruz’s campaign and some of the people most closely identified with them have been conspicuously leaning his way. These include “Kosher Sex” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has described Cruz as a “dear friend and courageous leader,” bestowed on him a “Defender of Israel” award through his World Values Network and served as a conduit for Cruz to some potentially supportive rich and powerful in the Jewish community.
Cruz has also been embraced by the Adelson-funded Zionist Organization of American (ZOA) whose feisty President Mort Klein describes him as an “unabashed supporter of the Jewish state of Israel.” In fact, the November 2014 ZOA New York gala in which he was the main speaker was probably one of the staging grounds for Cruz’s White House run. The Texas senator was greeted as a conquering savior by an enthusiastic audience that shouted, “Run, Ted, Run.”
He was also praised by his former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz as “being worthy of a new chapter in Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy’s famous portrayal of American heroes. Dershowitz was referring to the September 2014 incident which he described as “one of the great moments in modern American history” and which was indeed a breakout event for Cruz in the Jewish community.
Speaking at a Washington event of an organization called International Defense of Christians dedicated to the plight of beleaguered communities in the Middle East, Cruz enraged his listeners by telling them that they “have no better friend that the Jewish state.” He stood his ground in the face of increasing jeers, finally leaving the stage and telling his co-religionists, “If you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you.”
Despite his hawkish positions, Cruz has sparked some discomfort among neoconservative Israel supporters for his non-interventionist positions on the use of American military force – he has criticized the campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Libya – and sparked howls of protest by pinning the blame on “neocons.” Two former Bush administration officials usually associated with the term – Eliot Cohen and Elliott Abrams – said Cruz should have refrained from using the word, intimating that it serves as code for Jews, a claim that echoed the controversy over “New York values.” The incident is ironic because while Rubio has described Cruz as an isolationist, Abrams, as well as former UN Ambassador John Bolton, also known at one time as a “neocon”, have been listed as part of Cruz’s foreign policy team.
His support for Israel notwithstanding, Cruz’s uncompromising reliance on Christian dogma to advance his conservative social positions – as well as some of the Christian company that he keeps – render him more vulnerable than any other candidate to accusations of anti-Semitism. After the departure of Santorum and Mike Huckabee, Cruz is now the only true standard bearer of Evangelicals, a religious group disliked and distrusted by American Jews more than any other, including American Muslims. Unlike Rubio, who was a Catholic, a Mormon and a Southern Baptist before he was a Catholic again, Cruz has been a Baptist all his life, though perhaps not as devoted as in recent years, according to various reports.
Cruz recruited legions of Evangelical volunteers to Iowa to help him get out the vote and he has garnered substantial support from Evangelical leaders, including some questionable ones that could hurt his campaign down the road. Chief among these, perhaps, is Mike Bickle, founder and director of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City who has said that Jews will be annihilated if they do not accept Jesus. Like the famous John Hagee, founder of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), Bickle has also portrayed Adolf Hitler as “a hunter” sent by God to exact His punishment on Jews who do not accept his grace.
But while John McCain in 2008 rejected Hagee’s support and described his words as “offensive,” Cruz has done nothing of the sort. Ignoring the protests, Cruz has expressed his gratitude for Bickle’s “prayers and support” and his website proudly devotes a page to the pastor’s endorsement.
Cruz’s financial backers, who have donated over $40 million to his Keep the Promise PACs include Jewish backers such as California real estate tycoon and Republican Jewish Coalition member Edward Czuker. But his biggest benefactors are Farris and Dan Wilks, Texas billionaire brothers who made their money from fracking: they’ve given over $15 millon to Keep the Promise so far. But Farris Wilks is also a pastor in an extraordinary Christian denomination called the Assemblies of Yahweh. The church, which traces its roots to “Jewish Christianity” adheres to both Old and New Testaments, keeps the Sabbath and Passover, addresses Jesus as Yashua and maintains kashrut laws in accordance with the literal instructions of Leviticus.
Farris leads the Assembly of Yahweh, 7th Day, in Cisco, Texas. The “great sin of our nation,” Wilks says, “is the many millions of babies murdered” through abortions.
Jews don’t like that kind of talk, and such outlier Christian churches as the Assembly of Yahweh make them feel uncomfortable, despite the fact that its members may worship Zion and its Hebrews more than more moderate and mainstream believers. Cruz, in many ways, suffers from the same problem.