by Barry Rubin
Glenn Beck’s program in Israel went off without a hitch, ending in a rally on the southern side of the Old City of Jerusalem. About 1000 people were in attendance, mostly Americans (contrary to the media coverage, a number of the Americans were Jews not Evangelicals) who’d come to Jerusalem at Beck’s urging, but with a sprinkling of Israelis, including a fair proportion of Orthodox Jews.
With the Old City walls to his right and in front of him, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque looming quite close, Beck handled himself with a mixture of audaciousness toward his enemies and sensitivity toward his friends. He announced a global movement, to be headquartered in Texas, to encourage average people to act against injustice, though the details of its scope and goals weren’t clear. Since you won’t get any real coverage in the media, here is the full text of the speech.
While many fulminated against Beck and his Israel project it was hard to find something, he specifically said or did that should provoke such feelings. For example, a presentation on the history of Jerusalem was careful to cite Jewish, Christian, and Muslim connections with the city in a very balanced manner, as the call for prayer wafted from a nearby minaret.
Beck’s mission was to raise support for Israel, and the 1500 viewing parties around the world — including such places as China and Pakistan — guaranteed that many heard the message. He is seeking to reverse the trend in which “sophisticated folk,” my phrase, sympathize with terrorist groups and revolutionary Islamist organizations rather than a democratic state defending itself.
While listening to Beck I realized what a pity it is that so few people who should be doing so analyze him fairly, which doesn’t mean uncritically. He should be seen as a serious and sincere, morally oriented leader who gets some things wrong but is open to dialogue, has admitted mistakes, and has shown a real capacity to learn and grow over time. Only if his ideas are considered fairly can some of them be challenged in an honest way. Instead, we get the kind of baseless hatred (sinat hinam) that is denounced in Jewish tradition. Indeed, that vice is held to be the very reason that the Second Temple, by whose ruins the Beck rally was held, was destroyed.
Here is a hilarious example of the hysterical hatred that many in the media try to whip up against Beck, an AP story that practically draws horns and a tail on Beck. The author is so eager to tell the audience to hate this evil person that any pretense of journalistic fairness is thrown overboard.
The article says that Jews call the place the Temple Mount and the Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary. Hmm, I wonder what Christians call it? No prizes given. The author also says Beck has engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric. Really? Can you provide a few examples? Of course not. The article gives a big proportion of space — two of nine paragraphs — to a Peace Now leader who condemns Beck. Everyone in Israel knows that is a dead organization. Another paragraph is devoted to Beck’s position on financier George Soros, trying to make it sound antisemitic.
Not a single quote from anyone favorable to Beck is given. Remember that AP dispatches are supposed to be bland and super-neutral since they are supplied to many different newspapers. This one reads more like a Soviet newspaper under Stalin talking about Trotsky. The article finds no space to report anything that Beck actually said. There is no pretense of fair or accurate reporting because the author knows that editors will let it pass without any professional integrity at all.
So it shouldn’t be any surprise that Beck understands how the media treats Israel.
On one hand, Beck is very much in the Protestant moral revival tradition of America. He could have been a preacher and indeed he is partly that. While often dubbed, as one reporter remarked at the event, “a raving lunatic,” in part, too, Beck is a voice of relative sanity in a society where much of the mass media and universities have come under the control of people who, beyond their elegant phrases and superficially impressive credentials, better deserve that label.
Aside from his view that Christianity cannot exist without Judaism, that the Judeo-Christian heritage is a lynchpin of Western civilization, and that the divine being loves the Jewish people and favors them having a homeland in this land, I think what attracts Beck to the Israel issue is that its demonization so well exemplifies the upside-down craziness of this era. And Beck also knows something about what it’s like to be demonized.
Sitting there in the audience I came to a better understanding of what Beck and his movement is about, not only in regard to Israel but in a broader sense as well. What Beck and the Tea Party most epitomize might be called the post-reactionary conservative and religious right. Such people have accepted many things that their counterparts decades ago fought against. They are anti-racist, more tolerant than their opponents of dissent, and willing to accept equality for women and even equal rights for gays as people (though not necessarily gay marriage).
In contrast to the past authoritarian-oriented right, they believe the power of the state has gone too far. Historically, liberals represented a more liberty-oriented agenda, yet today those who call themselves liberals are statists, supporting more restrictive laws and regulations, stronger central government, higher spending, and bigger debts without end. What makes things especially troublesome is the fact that these laws, spending, and bureaucracy really aren’t doing much good except for those who gain government employment, contracts, or corporate bailouts from the federal budget.
Thus, whatever his silliness — much of which is really comedy or taunting his adversaries — Beck and his supporters, including the Tea Party, are not some new Klu Klux Klan, apologists for big business monopolies, a Nazi party, or whatever. They are a new phenomenon reacting to new and very changed conditions. They are not trying to roll back American society to a pre-civil rights era but to prevent it from entering a statist, anti-patriotic, bankrupt era.
To many readers here, all of this is relatively obvious. Yet roughly half of the American people have heard none of this. In some cases, those purveying the idea that Beck, and the conservatives, and the Tea Party, and the Republicans are dangerous loonies believe it. Some are cynically manipulating images from the past in people’s heads to manipulate them into supporting the current ruling group and ideas.
At the Restoring Courage event, for example, at one point in his speech, Beck remarked that a congressional committee didn’t end Jim Crow (the system of discriminatory laws, especially in the South, against African-Americans). The American reporter sitting next to me gave a little snort of derision and said out loud, “But a congressional committee did end Jim Crow!” He quickly wrote it down. Ha! Beck had said something stupid and inaccurate, you could almost hear him thinking. Now, I’ve got him!
Of course, Beck’s point was that it was a civil rights movement composed of grassroots individuals, and with a largely religious-oriented leadership, that has changed America. Sure, Congress came in and passed laws, yet that was the end of the process. Yet as in various dealings with Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and people like Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the mass media was only looking to discredit or even demonize.
“With friends like these…” said a Jewish journalist, leaving unsaid the rest of the phrase, “you don’t need enemies.” The reporter continued, “Beck is hurting us” — meaning Israel and the Jews. But how? My joke in response was, “We wanted to get Noam Chomsky instead but he’s too busy organizing an anti-Israel rally.” Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and such people would certainly be welcome in Israel if they wanted to defend Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. But they aren’t interested in doing that.
Beck does strongly support the settlement movement. The problem is that many Israelis — including myself — would be quite willing to see many settlements dismantled as part of a real and lasting two-state solution. But with no such outcome in sight, the future of those West Bank settlements is less of an immediate issue than it was during the Oslo peace process. At any rate, Beck has never hinted that settlers should defy any future government order to leave. Still, his view that essentially sees the settlements as divinely ordained (reminiscent of the Gush Emunim movement) is a barrier to his wider acceptance in Israel.
On the international aspects of the conflict, however, what he’s saying is not really controversial in Israel. One of the main points Beck made in his speech, for example, is the bankruptcy of much of the “human rights” industry, which has been hijacked into giving a pass to regimes that are the biggest violators of human rights. He noted the double standards used against Israel and many other points that could easily be — and should have been — the staple arguments used by liberals.
It is very hard for many Jews in America — many Israelis are more bewildered than hostile about these American battles — to comprehend the change. As a sympathetic Israeli observer put it, “Two thousand years of persecution makes one rather suspicious.”
Yet for a variety of reasons there has been an important shift in conservative circles, despite such old-fashioned hostiles as Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. The reasons for this require an article in itself but include perceiving common enemies, admiring Israel as a nation-state that defends itself, and a trend in evangelical Christianity appreciating their religion’s Jewish roots and being ashamed of past antisemitism.
These changes are real. But those Jews who isolate themselves from contact with these people and get their information from the mass media are not going to discover it.
Beck praised Israel and the Jewish people at great length, avoided sensitive topics, provided a religious narrative of tolerance and one that should be acceptable to Jews, and announced he would be going to South America to urge community and religious leaders there to support Israel. After the event I ran into a friend and said to him: “Do you think they’ll believe now that Beck is really pro-Israel?” We both laughed, knowing that this was unlikely.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at http://www.gloria-center.org