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August 22, 2011

Glenn Beck’s Holy Land Vanity Project

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/glenn_becks_holy_land_vanity_project_39110821/

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Glenn Beck

I knew I had to write this essay after reading that Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” pro-Israel events scheduled for this week were denounced by both liberal Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater and racist right-wing Israeli blowhard Moshe Feiglin.  According to Beck’s website, the purpose of the rallies in Israel is to show that “Israel does not stand alone.” Today’s kickoff event, a gathering of mostly American Christians in Caesarea, featured several speakers who delivered strong pro-Israel messages. A Holocaust commemoration is to follow tomorrow, and a big rally near the Temple Mount will be held on Wednesday night.
 
Beck’s love for Israel hasn’t prevented him from being targeted by his ideological opponents in the Jewish community. Rabbi Grater, a liberal Conservative Jewish leader, denounced him as a “fundamentalist-extremist” whose rally in Jerusalem will be “nothing more than a media-driven, money-making, self-serving, end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show.” This is not the first time that liberal rabbis have attacked Beck: 400 of them signed an ad earlier this year demanding that Fox sanction him (I publicly criticized the ad), and he in turn has called Reform rabbis’ involvement in politics “almost like radicalized Islam.”

Feiglin’s anti-Beck comments were more surprising, since they came from a man who believes in strengthening Israel’s Jewish identity by restricting citizenship to Jews, denying Israeli Arabs civil rights, and forcibly kicking out Arabs who don’t recognize Jewish sovereignty in Israel. You’d think that Feiglin would applaud a prominent American media personality who was holding pro-Israel events in his country. However, instead of gratitude the wannabe politician expressed his opposition to Beck for infringing on Jews’ “spiritual sovereignty” by holding his Jerusalem rally so close to the Temple Mount. 
   
When it comes to Glenn Beck, I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. I try to evaluate his actions individually. As a result, 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 Rabbi 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 Senator 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 Glenn Beck’s eschatological chessboard. While the Mormons I know are not nearly as obsessed with end-times theology as many other Christians, Mr. Beck clearly believes that he has been called on a divine mission to enlighten the world before the end comes.

This is primarily a religion blog, so I feel a need to point out a theological concern that I have with Beck’s recent statements. His unfortunate obsession with end times themes and delusional statements about playing a role in the fulfillment of prophecies can cause thoughtful Jews to lump Mormons together with other Christian groups whose theology focuses on eschatology. I winced when I read Rabbi Grater’s characterization of Beck’s rally as an “end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show.” While Mormons do tend to interpret literally the events predicted in the Book of Revelation and in our modern scriptures, we do not put “In the Event of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” bumper stickers on our cars or spend a great deal of time worrying or obsessing over events leading up to the end of the world. We choose to concentrate instead on preparing ourselves spiritually for that which is to come.

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 Glenn 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. Rabbi Grater and Moshe Feiglin may not agree on much else, but they’re right to oppose Glenn Beck’s Holy Land Vanity Project. Until a pillar of fire appears at a Beck event, count me a skeptic as well.                 

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