Forty years ago, one event in particular shaped the worldview of the junior senator from Texas.
Forty years ago this year, an event occurred that would – in a classic example of the butterfly effect – shape the worldview of a young boy who is now the most pro-Israel candidate running for President.
For Cruz, who attended an elementary school in Houston that was about half Jewish — he grew up wishing his family would celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas — the interest in Israel began in 1976, he said, as a very young Cruz learned of the Entebbe raid, an Israeli military operation to save airline passengers held hostage in an airport terminal in Uganda. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother Yoni was killed leading that raid.
“It struck me as a profoundly Texan approach to an act of terrorism,” said Cruz, who is an admirer of the hawkish prime minister. That tough response appeared to stem from “a foreign policy approach driven from strength, which I often wish American foreign policy more closely resembled.”
The Entebbe crisis was Israel’s showdown against the evils of both Islamic and Left-wing extremism. It involved the hijacking of an Air France flight by two members of the German Revolutionary Cells (RZ) and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – who flew the plane to Uganda to take advantage of the protection offered by the mad regime of Idi Amin. Their demands were the release of imprisoned Palestinian and German terrorists. After some time, they let the non-Jewish passengers go but continued to hold the Jewish passengers in captivity, reportedly with plans to execute them.
The liberal writer Alan Johnson recounts:
When a Jewish passenger showed him his Auschwitz tattoo, [German terrorist Wilfried] Böse shouted back, “I’m no Nazi! … I am an idealist.” As Paul Berman observes, “out of some horrible dialectic of history, a substantial number of German leftists had ended up imitating instead of opposing the Nazis.”
Increasingly, after 1967, this upside-down left had taken as the ultimate expression of “anti-imperialist struggle” the armed Palestinian, while Israel became the ultimate expression of “imperialism.” Drawing on some older traditions of left-wing anti-Semitism, and influenced by more recent but well-funded Soviet and Arab anti-Semitic propaganda campaigns, it became left-wing common sense that supporting Israel’s enemies—whatever these enemies actually stood for, however they actually behaved—was an “anti-imperialist” duty. (There was a fig-leaf: support to fascistic-but-anti-imperialist forces was to be “critical.” In time the leaf, along with the criticism, dropped away.)
On the 4th of July 1976, Israeli Special Forces conducted a lightning-fast assault on the airport terminal where the hostages were being held – saving all but one hostage, but suffering the loss of Colonel Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu.
Yoni is a national hero in Israel, so much so that in 1980 a book of his letters was published. In light of later history, his letters to young Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu are particularly interesting.Yoni writes to Bibi, who is in high school in America at the time, from combat training (January 6, 1965):
Yoni from an Israeli military outpost to Bibi, who is in high school in America and had gotten into a fight when someone made an anti-Semitic remark directed at him (October 23, 1965):
“I see, Bibi, that you had to release the surplus energy you stored up during the summer. There’s nothing wrong in that. But it’s too bad you sprained a finger in the process. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with a good fist fight; on the contrary, if you’re young and you’re not seriously hurt, it won’t do you real harm. Remember what I told you? He who delivers the first blow, wins.”
Yoni from an Israeli military outpost to Bibi, who along with his brothers fought in the Yom Kippur War and then returned to America to attend MIT once the fighting stopped (December 2, 1973):
“The war atmosphere is at a pitch, and I can only hope they’re not going to disturb your peace again. We’re preparing for war, and it’s hard to know what to expect. What I’m positive of is that there will be a next round, and others after that
“But I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people. Any compromise will simply hasten the end. As I don’t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode in thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.”
It is easy to see from these letters the influences shaping the tough, capitalist, pro-American worldview of Benjamin Netanyahu.
But it was Yoni’s final act of heroism that would inspire Ted Cruz, who, 40 years later, is promising to take the fight to the same radical Islamic and Leftist extremist enemies today.