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Middle East Matters: Glenn Beck in Israel: saint or sinner?

Published: Monday, Aug. 22 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

U.S. TV commentator Glenn Beck gestures as he speaks in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, July 11, 2011.

Associated Press

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Many readers have written to ask my opinion of Glenn Beck’s Restoring Courage events that are scheduled to take place in Israel this week. According to Beck’s website, the purpose of the events is to show that “Israel does not stand alone.” Few details are provided, but it’s safe to say that strong pro-Israel messages will be delivered at the gatherings.

Not surprisingly, Beck has also managed to rouse his enemies’ ire.

This week liberal conservative Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater publicly labeled Beck a “fundamentalist-extremist” whose rally in Jerusalem on Aug. 24 will be “nothing more than a media-driven, money-making, self-serving, end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show.”

This is but the latest in a series of acrimonious exchanges between Beck and liberal rabbis, who have attacked him in print (400 of them signed an ad earlier this year demanding that Fox sanction him). Beck in turn has called Reform rabbis’ involvement in politics “almost like radicalized Islam.”

When it comes to Beck, I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. I try to evaluate his actions, not his ideology. In this spirit I have written an essay taking him to task for inappropriate comments about George Soros, and I have also defended him against attacks by liberal rabbis that I felt were unfair and politically motivated.

I would ordinarily applaud anyone who organizes pro-Israel events in Jerusalem, but after further investigation I am inclined to agree with Grater’s assessment of Beck’s rally.

In fact, I’d like to add one more adjective to the list: delusional.

Since the organizers of Restoring Courage aren’t publicizing details of the events, I decided to hear what Beck himself had to say about them. Although I don’t listen to his radio show, I did listen to many recordings from the show in which he discussed his plans for this week. His vanity seems boundless. What else to make of Beck’s announcement on the air that the rally in Jerusalem will be a “planet course altering event” where “there’s a possibility a pillar of fire appears?” Or his suggestion that the gathering could well fulfill a prophecy of Zechariah and that it will open the “very gates of heaven?” It’s no wonder that members of Congress like Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Eric Cantor have bailed on Beck after promising to come.

When I was the regional executive director of a Jewish organization, I constantly preached to Jewish audiences the need to accept support for Israel from everyone, regardless of race, creed or religion. For the most part, Jews in this country have done so. However, Jews and sober people of all faiths also need to take a stand against delusional self-aggrandizement masquerading as Israel advocacy.

Israel is not just a pawn on Beck’s eschatological chessboard. While the Mormons I know are not nearly as obsessed with end-times theology as many other Christians, Beck clearly believes that he has been called on a divine mission to enlighten the world before the end comes.

As we see from recent headlines, Israelis have real problems (some of them existential) to deal with. It strains credulity to believe that they need someone like Beck – a non-Jew who has never lived in their country, doesn’t speak Hebrew, and has a Messiah complex – to teach them about courage.

Until a pillar of fire appears at one of Beck’s rallies, he should be both ignored and pitied.

Mark Paredes served as a U.S. diplomat in Israel and Mexico, blogs for the Jewish Journal, and will begin leading tours to Israel next year for Morris Murdock Travel. He can be reached at deverareligione@yahoo.com.

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