Glenn Beck’s Israel tour draws criticism, praise
posted at 2:05 pm on August 23, 2011 by Tina Korbe
More than 3,000 people crowded into the Caesarea Amphitheater Sunday to hear Glenn Beck launch his “Restoring Courage” tour in Israel. “Welcome to the land of milk and honey!” Beck said by way of greeting.
With this tour, Beck aims to express solidarity with Israel and to explore the concept of “courage,” which he says the Israeli people possess in abundance. The week’s events are distinctly religious — Sunday’s launch took as its theme, “The Courage to Love” and featured speeches by pastors and a rabbi — and that’s exactly how Beck likes it. No politicization, please. “The God of Abraham ain’t running for office,” he says.
From Caesarea, Beck headed to Jerusalem to host Night 2, “The Courage to Remember,” an evening dedicated to the recollection of the Holocaust. The night opened with a prayer and included a fiery speech from actor Jon Voigt, whose presence at the Beck events has drawn positive attention from The Jerusalem Post, as well as members of the always-large crowds.
But for all that Beck would prefer to keep the focus on someone higher than himself this week, the multimedia personality just can’t seem to help but draw controversy wherever he is or whatever he does. Stateside critics are quick to point out Beck’s past misstatements and to suggest he’s disqualified to advocate for Israel:
[C]ritics say Beck’s track record of controversial statements makes him an inappropriate ally. Last month he likened Norwegian youths gunned down at a political camp by an anti-Islamic extremist to “Hitler Youth.” Twice in the last year Beck has been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for “bigoted” and “horrific” comments on his show, one likening Reform Judaism to “radicalized Islam” and another in which he said Holocaust survivor and billionaire George Soros betrayed fellow Jews to Nazis.
Under pressure from Jewish groups in the U.S., Beck apologized for the remark about Reform Judaism.
He has several times had to fend off allegations of anti-Semitism. Last year he appeared to endorse the notion that Jews killed Jesus Christ; his list of the world’s nine most “dangerous” people includes eight Jews; he speculated in 2009 “that Israel might be wiped off the map, leading to all-out Armageddon.”
“If this is the only kind of friend Israel’s government can find around the world, that’s a very poor sign,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, secretary-general of Peace Now, the Israeli anti-settlement group. “It’s a reflection on our current leadership that instead of having the world on our side, we can only get someone like Glenn Beck.”
Still, the criticisms seem a little thin, aimed more at a personality that either pleases or grates but rarely leaves no impression than at any substantive qualms with Beck’s message. I’ve often found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending Beck to those who perceive him as “Mr. Armaageddon,” an apocalyptic preacher, an entertainer expert at televangelist appeals like whispers and tears. And I admit, at time, he does seem a bit over the top, his talking points not overly nuanced. But, in the end, how hard is he to defend? Do we not want to restore honor to our culture? To restore courage to our world? Do we none of us see the disintegration of the moral fabric of our society or the disheartening withering of popular support for Israel? Beck’s message is simple and sincere — and, however disaffecting his presentation of it might be at times, it’s also a much-needed one.
Perhaps that’s why the voices of his allies resonate, drowning out the voices of his detractors. Here’s Alan Dershowitz:
At a time when old friends and allies who should be supporting the Jewish state are abandoning it in droves, Beck’s willingness to stand up for Israel must be accepted with gratitude. I, for one, do not question his motives. I believe they are genuine. One need not accept all of Beck’s positions on Israel — and I certainly do not — in order to agree with him that support of Israel is one of the great moral issues of the 21st Century.
And Barry Rubin, writing in The Jerusalem Post:
Having studied the Middle East professionally for 35 years and with a PhD in Middle East history, let me make it perfectly clear: Glenn Beck, who is holding several rallies in Israel this week, has a better grasp of Middle East politics than most Western experts, not to mention Western leaders.
Certainly, Beck makes silly mistakes on factual matters and details. Yet what’s important is that he comprehends the big picture. I don’t say this based on a superficial view or on his support for Israel. As part of the GLORIA Center’s project on understanding current American politics and debates I have monitored virtually every television and radio show Beck has done over the last two years. When people voice absurd and slanderous stereotypes about Beck, it turns out they haven’t actually listened to what he’s been saying.
Why has Beck gotten things right that so many others have missed or distorted? There are five key reasons: Common sense; courage; knowing the difference between right and wrong; willingness to learn; and readiness to admit when one has been wrong. These are virtues often lacking among those with more elegant reputations and impressive diplomas.
Rubin is right — and his conclusion is an important reminder that truth, while at times difficult to discern, is by all means worth preserving, even in the face of insult or injury:
Any criticism one can make of Beck regarding Middle East issues rather pales in comparison to all of the … points on which he is quite correct. But then, as Jews, and Israelis most of all, should know, to be falsely reviled and have one’s image smeared is not proof of being wrong or evil.
Beck is living proof of one of his own favorite sayings, “The truth has no agenda” — not even to be liked.