COLLEYVILLE — Less than two weeks after a gunman took hostages at a Colleyville synagogue, Sen. Ted Cruz held what he called a “very productive” discussion with city officials and members of the Jewish community about how to address antisemitism and safety concerns at houses of worship across Texas.
The Texas Republican also told the media after Friday’s meeting at Colleyville City Hall, with Mayor Richard Newton at his side, it’s apparent that the state’s Jewish community is still in “shock and mourning.”
“The virulent hatred of Jewish people is wrong, it is evil, it is horrific, it is dangerous and has been used to justify some of the most horrific atrocities this planet has ever seen,” Cruz said.
British national Malik Faisal Akram held four people, including a rabbi, at gunpoint during an 11-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel on Jan. 15 before he was killed by federal law-enforcement agents. Authorities have called the incident “both a hate crime and an act of terrorism.”
Funding for training, security
Cruz, who attended a Shabbat service at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston to show support after the attack, said he has spoken on the phone with all four hostages, who told him the training they received over the past few years to manage potential threats saved their lives.
Despite the training’s success, Cruz said he was told Friday that many synagogues that have applied for federal funding to use toward security have been denied without clear reason, and he said his team will work to “try to get answers.”
“I intend to work to significantly increase the funding that is available so that more houses of worship are able to receive grants to harden and strengthen their facilities,” he said.
Questions remain unanswered
Cruz said there was also a “serious conversation” Friday about how Akram was able to get into the United States.
In a letter Tuesday, 11 Republican senators, including Cruz and his Texas colleague, John Cornyn, pressed the Biden administration to explain why Akram wasn’t on any U.S. watchlist, even though Britain’s counterterrorism service investigated him in 2020.
“I have not [received any answers] as to why he came in, what we know about his criminal record, what we knew about his terrorist ties and his radicalization,” Cruz said. “It is frustrating that the Biden administration is extraordinarily slow in responding to congressional oversight and so we just get crickets chirping.”
The White House has said British officials didn’t share any information that would’ve caused Akram to be added to a no-fly list.
Cruz said he considers fighting antisemitism a “labor of love” he has been “proud to lead on” during his time in the Senate.
He mentioned 2019, when remarks in which Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota insinuated that pro-Israel groups are pushing “allegiance to a foreign country” sparked outrage. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested a vote on a resolution condemning antisemitism.
“Sadly, the Democratic conference couldn’t agree on it, because of ‘The Squad,’ because of the strong anti-Israel sentiment, they couldn’t pass a resolution condemning antisemitism,” Cruz said, referring to Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Cruz has been under fire for that claim before, as lawmakers did condemn antisemitism. Representatives including Ocasio-Cortez argued that the House needed to condemn other forms of bigotry as well — not just antisemitisim — so lawmakers voted on a broader resolution that also condemned Islamophobia and white supremacism, among others.
That resolution passed 407-23, with Ocasio-Cortez and Omar voting in favor. All 23 votes against it were from Republicans.
‘Target the bad guys’
On Wednesday, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas announced that the man who reportedly sold Akram his gun, 32-year-old Henry “Michael” Dwight Williams, is facing a federal firearm charge.
Williams has been convicted of aggravated assault and drug charges in Dallas County and cannot legally possess a firearm.
“Tragically, that is how the vast majority of gun crimes happen: They get their guns illegally from criminals who it is already illegal for them to possess guns,” Cruz said.
Cruz said he has “led the charge for targeting criminals and felons to prevent them from getting firearms,” referencing an amendment he introduced to 2013 gun-control legislation that focused on prosecuting felons and others who illegally purchase firearms.
“I believe the right approach is to target the bad guys — to target felons, to target fugitives, to target terrorists and at the same time, to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens … protecting their own families,” he said.
The 2013 legislation was opposed by the National Rifle Association and ultimately failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
Cruz claimed Friday that the legislation could have averted the 2017 mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs church and prevented the ability for Williams to have sold Akram a gun. But a Washington Post fact check said the Sutherland Springs shooter passed background checks and that Cruz’s legislation wouldn’t have stopped the mistakes made by the Air Force that allowed him to buy guns.