By Michael Precker | Special Contributor
I’ve always had mixed feelings about B’nai Zion, the fervently Zionist organization that supports many worthy causes in Israel.
On one hand, there’s a long list of projects that benefit from their generosity and hard work, from David Yellin College in Jerusalem to B’nai Zion Medical Center in Haifa to Ahava Village for Children in Kiryat Bialik.
At least here in Texas, it’s easy — and certainly more relaxing — not to pay so much attention to Middle East affairs. But to their credit, the B’nai Zion folks I know care intensely about Israel. They read, they advocate, they visit.
On the other hand, at least around here, they lean waaaaaay to the right on the Israeli political spectrum. Not to oversimplify, but opinions seem to run the gamut from hoping the Palestinians somehow disappear voluntarily, to not wanting to wait for them to volunteer.
On Nov. 8, they’re having their annual gala at a fancy Dallas hotel. Proceeds are earmarked for a new underground emergency department at their Haifa medical center. If another war ever breaks out in the north, as happened in 2006, we’ll be grateful for all they’re doing now.
As fundraising groups commonly do, they’re bestowing honors on several people, presumably to sell tickets and generate contributions.
One honoree is Anh Vo, a remarkable woman who landed in Dallas as a penniless refugee from Vietnam and built the Cindi’s chain of deli restaurants that enjoy a lot of Jewish business. Her family has generously supported Jewish causes in return. Another is Dr. Hyman and Connie Tolmas, a couple with a long history of philanthropy in New Orleans and Dallas.
The third is the Rev. Rafael Cruz. He’s the father of Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas who is running for the Republican presidential nomination. There is a wide range of opinion about the ultra-conservative senator, and I’ll keep mine to myself. But he is undeniably a brilliant, canny elected official who commands respect even from those don’t like his politics.
But let’s talk about Dad. Fleeing Castro’s Cuba in his teens, he embodied the American Dream: learned English, worked his way through college, became a successful engineer, built a family — well, actually two families. Senator Ted is the product of the second one.
He also became a born-again Christian, a minister and a political activist wildly popular among evangelicals and the hard right. It certainly helps that he’s a virulent homophobe with fewer filters than Grandma after a flask of brandy.
Just a few recent examples:
• Last week Cruz told the World Congress of Families that it’s only a matter of time before gay activists push to legalize pedophilia.
• It’s “appalling” that Houston elected a gay mayor.
• Legalizing gay marriage “goes to the heart of the destruction of the family” and “could destroy America.”
• An anti-discrimination ordinance means that “if the football team in the high school decides that they want to shower with the girls and the girls complain, they can be sued.”
That’s just part of Cruz’s regular rants against Obama, government in general, the Environmental Protection Agency in particular, the media, liberals and all the usual bogeymen out there. Buzzfeed.com has a list of “The 68 Most Controversial Things Ted Cruz’s Dad Has Ever Said,” and a simple Google search will find you many more.
Sadly, he fits right into American political discourse these days. But even if you agree, should he fit into an event aimed at bringing the community together to support a noble cause?
This is hardly a new dilemma. Israel and its supporters have long argued about whether the country is so needy and embattled that it should accept support from pretty much anybody, no matter what they do or what they think about any other issue.
For whoever invited Rev. Cruz to the B’nai Zion gala, the answer obviously is yes. He’ll no doubt say wonderful things about Israel and get a standing ovation. Perhaps he’ll have the prudence to go easy on the gay-bashing, at least for one night.
For me, I hope the day comes when Israel won’t need to mobilize the Rafael Cruzes of the world. I also hope that B’nai Zion’s underground emergency room in Haifa is finished soon — and that they’ll never have to use it.
Michael Precker is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism who spent 30 years as a professional journalist, including stints with the Dallas Morning News and Associated Press. He left the field of journalism to work as a writer and publicist.