Anyone who’s opened their eyes in the past week may be aware that someone (most likely pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists) shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Ukraine. One might think that a tragedy of this magnitude would teach the rest of the world not to permit flights over war zones when there is a risk of danger. Apparently Texas Senator Ted Cruz does not entertain the notion that such threats might influence U.S. policy decisions. On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it would halt flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport after a rocket landed within a mile of it. The agency cited: “potentially hazardous security situation created by the armed conflict between Israel and Gaza.”
There has been respectful disagreement among professionals about whether the ban is necessary, but Cruz, in his usual belligerent style, brought the level of debate down a notch or five, proclaiming: “The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign policy demands.” What “facts” Cruz is referencing to are a mystery to all but Cruz. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have repeatedly supported Israel’s operation in Gaza, albeit calling for restraint to minimize civilian casualties, but it’s sadly predictable that Cruz and the GOP would use an international crisis as political ammunition against the President. What’s more surprising is that Cruz would impugn the integrity of a non-partisan government agency to score political points, threatening America’s international reputation in the process.
Cruz elaborates on his initial claim: “This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done.” Does Cruz truly believe that Israel’s huge tourism industry will suffer an irreparable blow because it is closed for a few days in the midst of a military conflict? That all of the tourists so interested in seeing the sights and visiting their relatives will decide to stay home because the FAA closed an airport when a missile went off a mile away? Tourists have been visiting in Israel in droves (more than 3.5 million in 2013) throughout far more dangerous wars, with the constant risk, however minimal, of attack. It’s very possible that a temporary ban on travel to Tel Aviv will have adverse effects on Israeli tourism. It’s possible that the FAA is being too cautious in its assessment of risk. But to say Obama is, through the FAA, deliberately striking a “crippling” blow against the Israeli tourism industry? With rhetoric like that, it’s no wonder Cruz has convinced so many people that Obamacare is the devil. The real threat to Israeli tourism is the war itself. Does Ted Cruz consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict another of President Obama’s numerous conspiracies?
As always, it is impossible to tell whether Ted Cruz is expressing heartfelt concern or merely saying what he must to whip up his base. Either way, any legitimate points he might have made are lost in the manner of his delivery. One might say Ted Cruz should learn to express himself more effectively, but that would accomplish the opposite of what he wants. Ted Cruz’s power is in his McCarthyan lunacy. The more outlandish his claims, the greater the support he receives from his base. And so, as is his strategy, he takes a grain of legitimate truth (a flight ban hurts Israel’s economy) and builds a lie (boycott! conspiracy!) around it. He ascribes the worst possible motives to his scapegoat (a government agency whose worst possible crime is being overly cautious) and lets the frenzied mob he’s whipped up do the rest. It’s a remarkably effective and, at this point, not surprising strategy. It’s just a shame he has to employ it in a region where hundreds of men, women and children are dying.