Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) followed Donald Trump at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference Monday evening. It is hard to go last at one of these gatherings. The crowd is tired, and many applause lines have been used. In this case, however, Cruz made use of his position in the program order, delivering a mature and tough speech. A number of moments stood out:
1. His best moment may have been at the beginning when he corrected Donald Trump’s use of the word “Palestine.” As Cruz pointed out, “Palestine has not existed since 1948.” It was a small but telling moment, highlighting the difference between someone who is reading the teleprompter and someone who understands the issues.
2. He had an actual policy innovation, namely a promise to defund any university that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. It was a thoughtful response to a situation that other speakers had decried but had failed to offer anything more than rhetoric.
3. As he had with Trump, he took a small point Hillary Clinton had made and turned it against her. He reminded the crowd Clinton remarked in 2014 that Israeli rockets hit civilians in Gaza occasionally because it is a densely populated area. “Well, Madam Secretary, with all respect,” he said. “the reason the missiles are in schools is not because Gaza is small. The reason the missiles are in schools is because Hamas are terrorist monsters using children as human shields.”
4. Cruz, like Clinton, hit Trump for declaring in pre-AIPAC remarks that he would be neutral toward Israel and the Palestinians. “My leading Republican opponent promised he, as president, would be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians,” Cruz said. “Let me be very, very clear: As president, I will not be neutral. America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” Once again, Cruz was able to separate himself from Trump, and the actual Trump from the teleprompted Trump.
5. He mocked Trump on what is supposed to be a strong suit for the real estate mogul. “Although Donald has promised he’s going to negotiate and get a better deal,” he said. “Well, my view is very different.” He vowed to rip up the deal, reimpose sanctions and tell Iran to shut down (not just pause) its nuclear program or “we will shut it down for you.”
6. The most interesting and convincing part of his speech was the explanation for his affection for Israel. “Now some have asked, Why on earth did a Cuban American Texan become one of the leading defenders of Israel in the United States Congress?,” he told the crowd. He said one answer was that the U.S. benefits since “Israel is a liberal democracy that shares our values, Israel is a steadfast and loyal ally, and our military aid to Israel is not charity, it is rather furthering the vital national security interest of the United States of America.” He continued:
But on a very personal level, for me much of my personal view of Israel has been framed by my family’s story — my father was born and raised in Cuba, as a kid, he fought in the Cuban revolution, he was tortured. My father fled Cuba in 1957, when he came to America, he had nothing — he had $100 sewn in his underwear and he washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. He paid his way through school he went on to start a small business. When I was a kid, my dad used to say, “When I faced oppression in Cuba, I had a place to flee to, If we lose our freedom here, where do we go?” And I will tell you it is an incredible blessing to be the child of an immigrant who fled oppression and came to America seeking freedom.
And there’s one other nation on earth like the United States of America that’s created as an oasis — as a beacon of hope — to people who have faced oppression, who have faced the horrible murder and persecution.
That came across as both sincere and objectively true.
7. As he spoke about standing up to bullies (“The way to avoid conflict is to stand up to bullies”) one wonders if that will not be an effective argument against Trump, who bullies women and takes advantage of the little guy (American workers, Trump University employees). Cruz could do well sticking up for his own daughters (and everyone else’s), the disabled and the many other groups of Americans Trump attacks. Cruz plainly wants to be a uniter now (“we are reaching out and building a coalition of young people and Hispanics and African Americans, and women and blue-collar workers and Jewish voters and Reagan Democrats”) and this would be an effective way of demonstrating that Trump, not he, is the divisive force in the GOP.
8. It’s a small thing, but he cared enough to pronounce correctly Hebrew words (Purim) and phrases (“Am Yisrael Chai” — the nation of Israel lives).