August 24, 2011
Watching Glenn Beck from Beverly Hills
When Glenn Beck took the stage on the evening of Aug. 21, in front of a crowd of 3,000 in the Roman-era amphitheater in Caesarea, he smiled.
“Welcome to the land of milk and honey,” the newsman-impresario said.
Back in Los Angeles, over breakfast of bagels and lox, 50 supporters of Israel — and of Beck — were gathered in Izek and Aline Shomof’s living room, watching him in the first of the week’s three planned “Restoring Courage” rallies.
A flat-screen TV was tuned to Beck’s own Internet-based network, GBTV. His main event — a sold-out event near the Old City of Jerusalem — was still two days away, but Beck told the Caesarea crowd that even this warm-up act was being watched in 80 countries around the world.
The folks at the event Sunday night in Israel were, according to Haaretz, mostly American Christians. But it was Sunday morning in Beverly Hills, which helped explain why, of the 50 people in the Shomof’s house, all but a handful were Jewish. The Christians were otherwise engaged.
The gathering was organized by the Israel Christian Nexus, a Los Angeles-based group dedicated to securing the support of American Christians for the Jewish state, so the viewing party was not a place to find Jews uneasy about the evangelicals’ particular embrace of Israel.
Some Jewish observers, including journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, have expressed concerns in the past about the hazards inherent in the evangelical brand of Israel support. Beck’s own critics include a group of 400 Reform rabbis who accused him earlier this year of trivializing the Holocaust. And Beck’s recent comments dismissing the hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting in Tel Aviv as being “from the hard left” have been widely reported.
But at this viewing party, attended by a mix of leaders of hawkish Israel advocacy organizations, Tea Party groups and Republican Party groups, there was unanimous appreciation of Beck’s Israel advocacy and the supporters he brought with him.
“I agree only with Glenn Beck,” Shelley Ventura said. Ventura was, until recently, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America’s western region.
“I think they are our Messiah for this time,” said host Izek Shomof, clearly impressed with the zeal Evangelical Christians bring to their support of Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, one of two Orthodox Rabbis who appeared on the stage in Caesarea, probably wouldn’t have used such unorthodox terms — but he welcomed the Evangelical Christian embrace of Israel.
“You Christians have the courage to love us in our otherness,” Riskin said, adding that such love and support meant even more, coming as rockets from Gaza were still falling in southern Israel.
“We appreciate it,” the American-born founding rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat said, “and we will never forget you.”
Back in Beverly Hills, one of the few Christians in attendance was Pat Boone, the singer and political commentator who wrote the lyrics to the theme from the movie “Exodus.” At one point in our conversation, Boone pulled a gold chain out from underneath his canary yellow shirt.
“I wear my chai and Magen David because I think of myself as an adopted Jew,” Boone said, displaying the pendants proudly.
But Boone, who heads the Beverly Hills Tea Party, said he wasn’t just looking to support the people of Israel; he is interested in seeing the land of Israel expanded.
“It’s about restoring the land of Israel to Davidic boundaries,” Boone said, referring to the territory over which King David ruled in the 11th and 10th centuries B.C.E. The land circumscribed by those borders would not include the southernmost tip of present-day Israel, but would extend East across the Jordan River to include parts of present-day Jordan.
“And although a lot of the world doesn’t like it or understand it, it’s God who is doing it,” Boone said. “We Christians believe that God has a plan for the people Israel, and nothing’s gonna stop it.”
Gary Dalin, executive director of Israel Christian Nexus, said that such views are common among Christian supporters of Israel.
“The Christians have a biblical perspective,” Dalin said. “So do Orthodox Jews.”
Dalin, who wears a black knitted kippah and sports a salt-and-pepper beard, guessed he was probably the only Orthodox Jew in the Shomofs’ house on Sunday morning.
He also believes that those who worry about the ulterior motives of Evangelical Christians haven’t met enough Evangelical Christians.
“There’s nothing they don’t tell me,” Dalin said of the many pastors and lay leaders he interacts with. Sure, he says, they are commanded to spread the good news, or gospel, about Jesus Christ, but “good” Evangelical Christians, Dalin said, will leave you alone if you’re not interested.
So-called Messianic Jews — at times referred to as Jews for Jesus — are another matter. Dalin explains the difference with an analogy.
“Single men are looking for single women. A civilized man, if a woman rejects him and says ‘no,’ he can accept that,” Dalin said. “Messianics don’t accept ‘no’ for an answer.”
Beck, as he did in the run-up to his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, D.C., in August 2010, has attempted to present “Restoring Courage” as a nonpolitical event.
“It’s not about politics,” Beck said in a July 27 videotaped message to supporters of United With Israel, a Facebook group dedicated to Israel advocacy.
“People all over the world will show the people of Israel that they are not alone, that no matter what our governments might say, people all over the world stand with Israel,” Beck said.
Much of the talk at the Beverly Hills viewing party was about politics, though.
Susan Silver, vice chairman of the Westside Republicans and a leader in the Hancock Park Patriots, a Tea Party Group, talked about the need to “change the people in office so they better reflect our values.”
Mark Reed, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Brad Sherman in 2010 on a platform of fiscal conservatism and limited government, handed out business cards.
But a few attendees, who appeared to be less than thrilled with Beck’s political agenda, were nevertheless willing to overlook that agenda and welcome his support for Israel.
“It shouldn’t be taken for granted that non-Jews and non-Israelis stand up for us,” LiAna Leah Baruch said. Asked what she thought about Beck’s comments about citizens protesting in the streets of Israeli cities, Baruch, who was born in Israel and now lives in Sherman Oaks, said that Beck could bring his political biases if he wanted.
“There’s no good without bad,” she said. “We’ll take it. We need people like him.”
A few minutes into the speech of the Rev. John Hagee, the headliner of Beck’s event, the GBTV feed went out. The face of the San Antonio, Texas-based pastor froze on the screen.
Dalin sprang forward, said a few words and wrapped up the event. Nobody seemed all that disappointed. Some headed for the doors. Others headed back to the kitchen for another bagel.
It was late in Caesarea. A cease-fire had been declared by Hamas at 9 p.m. Israel time. The next day, news reports would show that afterward, another dozen rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel.
In Beverly Hills, meanwhile, it was about midday. The Sunday farmers market was still open.