Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, defended his recent pro-Israel speech that was shouted down by audience members at a Middle Eastern Christian conference, in an interview published Tuesday.

Critics have accused Cruz of intentionally provoking the audience–which included some prominent supporters of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime–by praising Israel during his speech to the In Defense of Christians conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10.

Others have applauded the senator for telling the conference, which was organized to bring attention to the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians, that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” before he was drowned out by shouts and boos from the heavily Syrian and Lebanese audience.

Cruz told World Magazine that he was surprised by the angry reaction to his pro-Israel comment, but said he did not regret attending and attempting to speak at the conference.

“Look, I anticipated that there were one or two radical speakers who I didn’t expect would be happy with what I was saying,” said Cruz. “What I didn’t understand was that a significant minority of the attendees there reflected the same bitter hatred towards Israel and the Jews. That surprised me. It disappointed me, but at the end of the day, we are called as Christians and Americans to speak the truth. That is what I endeavored to do.”

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