WASHINGTON (JTA) — Does Glenn Beck get Jews?
It depends on whom you ask – to a degree – but it also seems to depend on the day of the week.
Here he is on the night of July 19: “The Jewish people have been chased out of almost every country on this planet,” he told a crowd of thousands at the annual Christians United for Israel gathering in Washington. “This is why the nation of Israel is vital.”
And here he less than a week later, speaking July 25 on his syndicated radio show, broadcast on 400 stations, describing the July 22 massacre in Norway of dozens of teenagers at a Labor Party summer camp: “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth,” he said. “I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”
The statement about Israel earned Beck plaudits from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, in a column he wrote for The Jerusalem Post. “I sat there thinking, if only the Jewish community could offer such unequivocal support for Israel,” Boteach said.
Boteach is hardly alone. Beck earned a rapturous reception when he appeared earlier this month before the Knesset committee dealing with Diaspora affairs and immigration, and he is planning a mass rally in Jerusalem on Aug. 24.
“We tend to give up and be hopeless,” Likud’s Danny Danon, a settler leader and the Knesset committee chairman who proffered the invitation to Beck, told JTA. “And it’s heartening to see Glenn Beck and his show winning the battle.”
Mort Zuckerman, the New York publishing magnate and a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella foreign policy group, wrote Beck to praise him for his rally plans.
“I am happy to support your efforts to explain why today more than ever we need people who are willing to stand with Israel and people who can explain Israel’s unique position in the history of the world,” Zuckerman wrote.
A number of liberal groups in the United States have opposed the rally as exploitative.
The statement about the massacre, likening the slaughtered Norwegian teens to Nazis, also produced Jewish comment.
“He’s back!” Dana Milbank, a Jewish columnist for The Washington Post, posted on Twitter, with a link to the audio. Milbank is the author of “Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America, which alleges that Beck’s theories are rooted in conspiratorial anti-Semitism.
Both of Beck’s statements are rooted in the overarching theory he peddles on his radio show — that despotic movements, like communism, fascism and Islamism, continue to seek world domination, and that they have tentacles inside the establishment reaching as far as the White House.
Beck’s speech at CUFI conflated the threats Jews faced in Nazi Germany with his familiar rhetoric about the threats posed by big government. “You cannot break down people’s doors and snatch them,” he said. “All of us have a right to practice peacefully our religion, to raise a family and to use our God-given talent” to start businesses.
Milbank, who launched a campaign in his column to keep prominent Jews from joining Beck onstage in Jerusalem, says such talk is rooted in a conspiratorial mindset that has never been good news for the Jews. He notes that some of the books Beck urges his followers to read contain ancient tropes about Jewish domination and control.
Writing in The Washington Post, Milbank outlined a greatest-hits list of Beck’s offenses: “Hosting a guest on his show who describes as ‘accurate’ the anti-Semitic tract ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’; likening Reform rabbis to ‘radicalized Islam’; calling Holocaust survivor George Soros a ‘puppet master,’ a bloodsucker and a Nazi collaborator; touting the work of a Nazi sympathizer who referred to Eisenhower as ‘Ike the Kike’; and claiming the Jews killed Jesus.”
Such lists are ripped from context, David Brog, CUFI’s Jewish director, wrote in a counterattack on the conservative website the Daily Caller, and they ignore Beck’s efforts to shine a light on Israel’s delegitimization, which Brog characterized as the new anti-Semitism.
“Beck has not only recognized the threat of this new anti-Semitism, but he’s become a leading opponent of it,” Brog said. “How often do cable news shows devote entire episodes to such ratings busters as reviewing the history of anti-Semitism — with a special focus on Christian anti-Semitism — or interviewing Holocaust survivors?”
Beck declined an interview for this story, but his aides provided background on his friendliness to Jewish groups, dating back to February 2008, when he spoke at a fundraising event for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Such appearances have proliferated recently, but so have the contretemps between Beck and the Jewish establishment, which tend to follow a pattern: He offends by likening Jews who promote social justice to Nazis or by likening Reform rabbis to Islamists. Then he apologizes, and then he offends again.
Beck’s supporters point to his devoting two episodes of his recently retired TV show on Fox News Channel to the March 11 murder of five members of the Udi Fogel family in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.
The Fogel murders occurred during the tsunami that hit Japan, and the American media devoted extensive resources to covering that tragedy.
Beck, Danon said, “was the only one in the media who gave the appropriate time and context to the massacre at Itamar.” The Likud lawmaker added that the intellectual company Beck keeps is less important than his fervent and sincere support for Israel.
“I care about the issue of Israel, and when you see the remarks and comments about Israel, you should be happy about it,” Danon said.
That certainly seemed to be the view of the CUFI activists — mostly Evangelical Christians, but also including certain invited guests, such as Boteach, who represent the Jewish community’s more conservative wing.
“We love you, Glenn Beck!” a man shouted out from the back of the hall during the CUFI gathering. Beck, who specializes in a self-deprecatory stance, retorted: “That’s somewhat disturbing coming from a man, but I mean, look at me, I’ll take it.”
He concluded his speech by appealing to the anti-Semites he had described: “Count me a Jew and come for me first.”
“Show me the Jews — I’m one,” he said and raised his hand.
So did hundreds of others deep in the cavernous Washington convention center. One woman draped herself in an Israeli flag, and ecstatically danced through the hall.