Ted Cruz has a serious problem. Despite a near-sweep in Maine's primary over the weekend, the junior senator from Texas has been blocked from winning enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination - his only hope now is to outmaneuver Donald Trump at the convention. After Cruz got trounced by Trump in the New York and New England Republican primaries - despite a recent shift in the party establishment coming around to back him - it appears safe to say that Israel and the Middle East may be spared a Cruz presidency.
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Trump’s current lead over Cruz is not a validation of how strong a front-runner he is. By the numbers, the website FiveThirtyEight is now calling him the weakest GOP front-runner "in the modern era." Instead, Trump’s lead serves to underscore how equally unelectable and unfit for the presidency Ted Cruz really is.
In many ways, Cruz has been campaigning in lockstep with Trump. Trump vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. So did Cruz. Trump kept rising in the polls after saying the United States should ban Muslims from entering the country. Soon after, Cruz called for enhanced policing of Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. Trump was slow to disavow an endorsement from a KKK leader, while Cruz has been piling up endorsements from public figures who have been accused of anti-Semitism – running the gambit from Ted Nugent, who blamed Jews for trying to take guns away, to a Kansas pastor who said “God sent Hitler to kill the Jews.”
Cruz, like Trump, has said some questionably anti-Semitic statements himself: from his now infamous “New York values” comment to him calling “chutzpah” a “New York term” while deflecting an attack over Wall Street donations to his campaign. Both left and right-leaning pundits and commentators have slammed Cruz for equating New York with Jews. Geraldo Rivera angrily condemned him on Fox News, saying his comments “stink of anti-Semitic implications;” Rachel Maddow did a long segment calling out Cruz's anti-Semitic flirtations; and Dana Milbank has called Cruz’s rhetoric an “anti-Semitic dog whistle.”
Cruz’s tone, throughout the campaign, has not gone unnoticed by America’s Jewish community. Gallup recently aggregated its polling data since the beginning of the year to get a snapshot of how the small (only 2 percent of all voters) Jewish vote views Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, John Kasich, Trump and Cruz. The poll published on March 24 shows Cruz with only a 20 percent favorability rating among U.S. Jews, below Trump’s abysmal 24 percent. The two were tied with a 72 percent unfavorable rating.
Cruz’s high unfavorability ratings among Jewish voters may be surprising in view of his credentials as a starkly pro-Israel senator – ‘"pro-Israel" in terms of being in sync with Israel’s current government. He passed legislation through the U.S. Senate condemning Hamas for using human shields during the last Gaza war and strong-armed the State Department into lifting the ban on flying into Israel during the conflict. Cruz has pledged time and again to tear up the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran. He has pledged that "not one penny of U.S. tax dollars" will go to the Palestinian Authority. He co-sponsored a bill which would force the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal, undivided” capital. He also led a charge of U.S. lawmakers against the European Union’s guidelines to label goods from the settlements.
However, Jewish voters perhaps understand the difference between declarative positions in support of Israel and the dangers of actually realizing such policy positions. For instance, talking about Jerusalem as Israel’s "eternal capital" is one thing, while actually moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem would be quite another; there’s little appetite to consciously provoke another international diplomatic crisis. The last three U.S. presidents, each with different ideological points of view on Israel, have used a national security waiver to bypass the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act that legally mandated the move.
It’s unclear that even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would welcome such a dependably inflammatory move six months into what some are calling a third intifada. The same goes for defunding the Palestinian Authority, which would serve to further decrease Israel's influence over Palestinian security policy and deepen Palestinian anger.
At the core of the threat Cruz poses is exactly his intention to follow through on polarizing and destabilizing policy positions relating to Israel and to issues close to Jewish voters. Cruz has proven he stands by his word, having led a shutdown of the federal government after only being in office a year. A U.S. president who publicly declares that his unbending Evangelical Christian values drive his decision making, initiating unilateral U.S. moves in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sure recipe for further radicalization.
Trump may be an angry firebrand who, despite his AIPAC performance, repels most American Jews, including Republicans. But Cruz’s ideological rigidity, as well as his own racial divisiveness, is not a digestible alternative either for those American Jewish voters who want to defend Israel and not see her being pushed into Armageddon.
Alexander Griffing is the Director of Digital Outreach at Haaretz English edition. He has a master's degree from Tel Aviv University in political science.