Questions surround a Washington, D.C. conference whose stated purpose was to gather lawmakers, Eastern and Western churches, community leaders and a variety of Christian groups to confront the problem of genocide being perpetrated against Christians by ISIS.
Clinton donor and Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, who pledged $1 billion to the Clinton Global Initiative in 2009, reportedly provided funding for the IDC summit.
Chagoury, says the Free Beacon, also has backed Lebanese politician Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s main Christian ally in the country, according to United States diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
As Breitbart News’ Matthew Boyle reported Wednesday, the summit’s keynote speaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), was booed off the stage during the organization’s gala dinner when he offered public support for Israel. Cruz ultimately left the stage, observing the crowd’s hatred for Israel and asserting that he could not stand with them if they did not stand with Israel.
Other Washington lawmakers scheduled to attend the event included Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
As the Free Beacon notes, Lebanese Information Center president Joseph Gebeily, a Lebanese Christian who is adamantly opposed to the Assad regime, said he was “shocked” by many of the invited speakers to the IDC summit but attended because he knew members of Congress would be present.
“I decided we should be present and not let the bad representatives of Middle East Christians hijack the true message of Christianity, which is basically democracy, tolerance, co-existence, inclusiveness,” said Gebeily.
In May, AsiaNews.it reported that Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Rai, also scheduled to speak during the IDC keynote time slot, travelled to Jerusalem to meet Pope Francis during the pontiff’s visit to the Holy Land. Rai was criticized for visiting Jerusalem by two pro-Hezbollah newspapers, referring to his action as an “historic sin.”
Rai noted, however, that he was only going to Jerusalem to meet the pope and would not meet Israeli leaders, stating he was “aware that Israel is an enemy state that is occupying Lebanese territory.”
The Daily Star reported in September of 2011 that Rai, in an interview with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel broadcast, said:
Hezbollah’s arms are linked to several issues. We have said this to the authorities in France. Everyone says why is Hezbollah carrying arms? We responded that the international community did not exert pressure on Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory. As long as there is an occupied Lebanese territory, Hezbollah will maintain that it wants to carry arms in defense of its land. What will we say to it then? Isn’t it [Hezbollah] right?”
Rai also said Hezbollah’s arms were linked to the return of about 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to their homes in Palestine. He was criticized also for his statement that Assad should be given the opportunity to carry out political reforms though protesters were demanding his ouster, and for warning that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria would pose a threat to the Christians there.
Rai’s comments were praised by Hezbollah.
“Patriarch Rai’s stance is not biased toward Hezbollah. It is biased toward the all-embracing national interest in general, and in the interest of Christians in particular,” Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said.
According to the Free Beacon, the Maronite patriarch said earlier this month that he would welcome a meeting with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to discuss the threat of Islamic State (ISIS) against Christians.
“A dialogue committee already exists between [the Lebanon Maronite Church] and Hezbollah, and we are ready to hold any meeting in this respect,” Rai reportedly said.
Another attendee at the IDC summit, Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, posted photos on his Facebook page on September 5th with a “high level delegation from Hezbollah.”
Also present at that meeting with Hezbollah were Al-Sayyed Ibrahim Amin Al-Sayed, president of the Political Council in Hezbollah, and Ghaleb Abou Zeynad, the terrorist group’s designated Christian relations diplomat.
IDC summit speaker Antioch Church patriarch Gregory III Laham in 2010 charged that a “Zionist conspiracy against Islam” is responsible for al-Qaeda attacks on Iraqi Christians, according to the Daily Star.
“I believe it is necessary to deeply examine fundamentalism…and terrorism that are masked by religion, along with violence and disturbances against Christians here and there and on an increasing level,” the patriarch said. “All this behavior has nothing to do with Islam.”
“But it is actually a conspiracy planned by Zionism and some Christians with Zionist orientations, and it aims at undermining and giving a bad image of Islam,” Laham said.
A controversial figure within the Catholic Church, Laham issued a message in 2012 welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon, in which he called upon the Holy See to recognize the State of Palestine, causing his statement to be described as “a great embarrassment to Rome” by the Vatican Insider.
Similarly, in 2013, cathnews.com reported that a prominent French bishop, Claude Dagens of Angoulême, accused Laham of “scheming with President Bashar al-Assad to block a planned Vatican peace visit to Syria by Catholic prelates in 2012.”
Dagens said that when the Vatican announced its plans for the visit to Syria, Laham promptly telephoned Assad, “of whom we know he is an ally politically and financially,” and made an unspecified deal with him.
The Free Beacon notes that other IDC summit speakers, including Antioch Church leader John X (Yazigi) and Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, have all persistently defended the Assad regime.
A report from CNEWA in May of 2013 cited Younan’s statement that events in Syria were the result of Western nations carrying out a geopolitical strategy “to split Syria and other countries” in the Middle East.
“It’s not a question of promoting democracy or pluralism as the West wants us to understand of its policies,” Younan said. “This is a lie, this is hypocrisy.”
Younan added that Western nations “bear responsibility for what is happening in Syria,” and that his and other leaders’ warnings about the violence in the region leading to chaos to countries such as the United States “chose not to believe that.”
Breitbart News made numerous attempts to contact IDC media spokesperson Joseph Cella by phone and email and was sent an article by AINA News about the incident with Cruz and a statement by IDC president Toufic Baaklini:
As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: “At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.” In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of other all other faiths and all people of good will.
Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome…
“For more than 48 hours, our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics,” Baaklini continued. “It has not been easy, and not without challenges. Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that the [IDC] is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside.”