One of the best friends of the Jewish community in the United States Senate is undoubtedly Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas. As my esteemed friend Nick Muzin, who was a senior adviser and deputy chief of staff for the senator told me, “Ted has a true love for the Jewish people; it’s in his soul. That was true before we worked together, and it’s certainly true more than four years after I left his office. He’s not doing it for political gain—we aren’t a big constituency in Texas—but because he really identifies with the community and our values.”
If anything, Senator Cruz has more than proven that during the recent coronavirus pandemic. With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio repeatedly sending out biased tweets and the Orthodox community being targeted by Hizzoner, few have come to its support with such unwavering conviction and passion as he has.
Nick, who knows the Texas senator well, also told me, “It’s an honor to collaborate with someone so talented, who is in politics for the right reasons. We can expect great things from him in the years to come.”
I didn’t have the privilege to collaborate with Mr. Cruz. But from the candid and wide-ranging conversation I did merit to have with him, I must say that I wholeheartedly concur with Nick’s sentiments.
How are you feeling? I know you were quarantined very early on.
I was quarantined, but I never got sick. I’m feeling great, and so is my family.
We’ve been watching what you are doing, defending our community very passionately. You’re probably one of the most popular people in New York’s Orthodox Jewish community today.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
The question that’s on many people’s minds is, why would a senator from Texas think about what’s happening in a Brooklyn neighborhood on the other side of the country?
I have been passionate about religious liberty my entire life. Religious liberty is the very first liberty protected in the first clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Our nation was built on the proposition that each of us has the right to live according to our faith and conscience, and that freedom is fundamental. I have been blessed to have a great many friends in the Orthodox Jewish community. Defending the rights of everyone to practice their faith and live according to their conscience is vitally important.
Mayor de Blasio’s recent tweets have been blatanly biased against the Jewish community. I felt that your tweets in response, in addition to what you just stated, had a sentiment that was very appreciated.
This is a time of enormous crisis nationally, and government leaders have a responsibility to protect public health and enact measures to keep all of us safe. At the same time, those measures cannot become an excuse for elected officials to become authoritarian or to persecute disfavored communities. We have seen instances across the country of elected officials abusing their authority.
In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly seemed to single out the Jewish community for disproportionate scrutiny and enforcement. This started early on, when he threatened that any church or synagogue that dared to meet risked being permanently closed. No elected official has the authority under our Bill of Rights to permanently close houses of worship. That was the first time I engaged, because we’ve seen too many elected officials with an antipathy to faith communities. Then that antipathy seemed to escalate, as the mayor targeted the Jewish community by name. Given the horrific history of anti-Semitism around the world, there are obvious risks to government officials targeting the Jewish community by name. That encourages base and hateful instincts.
Fighting anti-Semitism has long been a passion of mine as well. Two years ago we saw a handful of freshman members of Congress repeating anti-Semitic tropes. As you’ll recall, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, introduced a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that sadly couldn’t pass the House of Representatives because the Democratic Caucus in the House became fractured over it. They ended up passing a very bland resolution condemning hatred of every kind without any specificity whatsoever. I was deeply dismayed by that, and I believed that it was important for the Senate to do better. So I reached out to Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, and I asked him to team up with me. We drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that was clear and unequivocal. It condemned the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, as well as the specific anti-Semitic tropes that had been raised by the freshman members of Congress. My hope was that we could unite and speak with a single bipartisan voice against anti-Semitism. Thanks to a lot of hard work we were able to do that, and the Senate passed the Cruz-Kaine resolution unanimously. Every Democrat and Republican supported it. I thought it was important for that contrast to be there; that this be a clear line we drew in the sand.
Is your fervent support of the State of Israel connected to what we just discussed?
Absolutely. When I was elected to the Senate eight years ago, I resolved to be the strongest defender of the State of Israel in the US Senate, and I have endeavored every day to follow through on that commitment. During my time in the Senate, I have traveled to Israel four times. I led the fight in the Senate to move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, I led the fight in the Senate against President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and I led the fight in the Senate to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel. Then, with the Trump administration, I’ve worked very closely with the president, urging the administration to take each of those steps. I was there when we opened our embassy in Jerusalem. It was an extraordinary and powerful moment.
Do you support the annexation of the West Bank by Israel?
I think that’s a decision for Israel to make. My focus has always been on the question of [which is preferable,] a one-state or a two-state solution. Israel is a sovereign nation, and as such, it is entitled to make those determinations. So if the elected leadership of Israel decides to go down the path of some exchange of land for peace, I think that’s a decision for Israel to make. No one wants to see an end to the violence more than the people of Israel, whose children are being murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Far too many American politicians have been presumptuous in trying to dictate the terms of peace.
The barrier to peace in Israel is not the leadership of Israel, it is the Palestinian Authority, and we will not see peace unless it entails, number one, that the Palestinian leaders acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and number two, renounce terrorism as a means of fighting against Israel. To date, the Palestinian leadership has been unwilling to do either. So when it comes to Judea and Samaria and questions of annexation, those are issues that Israel should resolve without the United States arrogantly trying to dictate an outcome.
So you believe that the Trump administration has done well vis-à-vis Israel.
It’s difficult to find an area of policy on which there has been a sharper reversal between the Trump and Obama administrations than when it comes to our policies towards Israel. The Obama administration tragically demonstrated persistent hostility to Israel and deeply frayed the friendship between our nations. I am a strong believer in bipartisan support for standing with Israel, and I think that grave damage was done, especially when the Obama administration forced through the disastrous Iran nuclear deal and demanded the partisan support of Congressional Democrats, notwithstanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out—rightly, I believe—that a nuclear Iran was an existential threat to the State of Israel. The result on Capitol Hill was that virtually every Congressional Democrat made the decision to stand with the Obama White House instead of with our friend and ally, the nation of Israel.
From the beginning, the Trump administration made a series of very important decisions with regard to foreign policy. The first was the decision of whether or not to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That entailed a vigorous debate within the administration. The State Department and the Defense Department both opposed the move. They said it would enrage the enemies of Israel and the enemies of America. I engaged with the president very directly in that debate, taking the other side and advocating for moving the embassy—I had introduced legislation for doing that—and made the case that standing unambiguously with Israel was important for both our friends and enemies to understand.
The president agreed with me and made the courageous decision to move the embassy. That decision, I believe, was closely intertwined with the most important foreign policy decision of the Trump administration, which was withdrawing from the disastrous Obama Iran nuclear deal.
With regard to that decision, once again both the State Department and Defense Department argued vigorously against pulling out of that deal. Once again, I repeatedly made the case directly to the president that there was nothing we could do that was more important for our national security or for the security of Israel than stopping to send billions of dollars to Ayatollah Khamenei, who chants “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Thankfully, the president again made the courageous decision to pull out of that deal. I do not believe it was coincidental that we announced the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal the very same week we opened our embassy in Jerusalem. Those two decisions were incredibly important.
You have been a strong critic of the Chinese government, especially with regard to their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Do you advocate pulling out of the trade agreement the United States recently signed with them?
No. The trade agreement opened the Chinese markets to US goods and services, particularly our agricultural exports, which is important. What I do advocate is being clear-eyed and direct about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist government, which actively silenced and covered up the spread of the coronavirus, and I believe they bear direct responsibility for the over 300,000 people who have been killed by this virus around the world.
In December of last year, when brave Chinese physicians and journalists stepped forward as whistleblowers to try to stop this virus, the Chinese Communist government arrested, imprisoned and silenced them. Had the government behaved like any responsible government and sent in public health professionals and quarantined those who were affected, there is a very real possibility that we could have contained this as a regional outbreak rather than a global pandemic. I also believe that we need a full accounting from them for the disaster that unfolded.
This crisis also underscores the vulnerability of the United States in having so much of our supply chain dependent on China, particularly critical infrastructure. This includes things like PPE, as a very large percentage of masks, gloves and other protective equipment is manufactured there. So is an enormous percentage of the pharmaceuticals we rely on, everything from antibiotics to medicines for heart disease, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more.
The Chinese government systematically targeted critical infrastructure and drove American production of pharmaceuticals out of business. They set out to make the American people dependent on China for its pharmaceuticals, and at the height of this crisis we saw a state-controlled Chinese newspaper directly threaten to cut off these pharmaceuticals from the United States as a tool of economic warfare. Of course, if they did so it wouldn’t be merely economic warfare, it would be actual warfare. It would quite literally threaten the lives of Americans by denying millions of people access to needed and life-saving medications. So I believe that the most significant long-term foreign policy consequence of this pandemic is going to be a fundamental reassessment of the United States’ relationship with China, especially with regard to bringing much of our critical infrastructure back to the United States so that we aren’t dependent on the Chinese Communist government.
Towards that end, I recently introduced legislation to help shift some of our reliance away from China to partner with Israel instead. This is bipartisan legislation that I introduced together with Democratic Senator Chris Coons to invest $12 million in joint research with Israel on COVID-19 treatments, vaccines and cures. That legislation just passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously, a committee on which both Chris and I serve. I’m hopeful that it will soon pass into law as a step towards eliminating our dependency on China and also strengthening our partnership with Israel.
You’ve hinted in the past that you would like China to pay for the economic loss that the United States has suffered. Is that correct?
Yes, although the mechanism for doing so is complicated, and the precise way to carry it out is something that I expect will be the topic of debate for weeks, months and potentially even years. The first step should be a careful and credible accounting of exactly what role China played in the origin and spread of this pandemic. The next step in that conversation is what the consequences of that responsibility should be, both in terms of the more than 300,000 lives that have been lost and the premiums in dollars of economic value that have been destroyed.
Economists have predicted that we’re heading for a depression. Do you think that you and others in all branches of the government are prepared to tackle this after our major loss?
It is truly an unprecedented challenge on several levels. We have seen over 36 million Americans lose their jobs in just two months. As a nation, we haven’t faced an economic challenge of this magnitude since the Great Depression. My priority is solving both crises: the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic crisis that was caused by the government policies that were put in place to slow its spread. Both must be solved, and the key to that, I believe, is restarting our economy and letting people go back to work as quickly as possible, consistent with sound science and medical data. This is where the solution has to vary geographically based on the facts on the ground.
New York City has tragically seen much higher rates of infection than elsewhere. The process of restarting the economy there is obviously going to be slower than in rural areas, where the rates of infection have been very low. But the only way for the 36 million people who lost their jobs to get back to work is to let small businesses open and remove the constrictions from the American free enterprise system.
In terms of the Congressional response, we’ve seen the passage of multiple pieces of legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support, focused initially on relief, providing what are essentially short-term emergency bridge loans to individuals, families and small businesses. The next phase we’re moving into should be a recovery phase, focused on reducing the tax and regulatory burdens on small businesses and job creators, so that when small businesses start opening their doors they can survive and grow and rehire all the people who are hurting. That’s where I’m focusing in terms of our response, helping to restart our economy so we can come out of this enormous crisis we are facing.
Before I let you go, what was your reaction to the death of George Floyd?
What happened to George Floyd was a horrific act of police brutality, and something we should never see from someone we have entrusted to enforce our laws and keep our communities safe.
What do you think the federal and state governments should do about the ensuing protests and riots?
Wreaking havoc on our streets and in our stores is not the answer. The answer is to let the criminal justice system hold the officers involved accountable for their actions.
Do you believe that the unrest will have an impact on the political arena and the presidential election?
It’s worth noting that every elected official involved is a Democrat. From the mayor to the attorney general to the governor to both senators, Minnesota has Democrats who like to virtue signal on just about everything, yet this horrific wrong was carried out under their leadership. These are the same people who are trying to arrest dads for playing softball with their daughters, people for driving cars and for running on the beach. Yet when people are rioting in the streets, setting places of worship on fire and brutally attacking others, they’re nowhere to be found. Criminal conduct is unacceptable, whether it is committed by an enraged mob or an enraged police officer, and despite what many Democrats would have you believe, the law should apply fairly and uniformly to everyone.