This has been a summer of astonishments. So it probably should have come as no surprise that Tel Aviv's sudden tent city should have drawn the impossibility of rain in August. Or that Glenn Beck has arrived from America to teach us about the meaning of courage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the likelihood of finding Islamic radicals under the protest canvas on Rothschild Boulevard.
Next week, conservative political commentator Beck plans to hold a mass rally to "Restore Courage" in Jerusalem. His goal: to save Israel and the United States from apocalyptic destruction in the form of the two-state solution. Beck remains a curious choice, even if he was self-selected, to save Jews from themselves. But a certain bizarre ambivalence, especially when it comes to Jews, has done little to stop him in the past.
Twice in less than a year, the Anti-Defamation League has scathingly denounced statements by Beck. In February, ADL national director Abraham Foxman condemned as "highly offensive and outrageous" a radio broadcast in which Beck compared Reform Judaism to "radicalized Islam," characterizing Reform rabbis as "generally political in nature" rather than religious. "Glenn Beck's comparison of Reform Judaism to radical Islam demonstrates his bigoted ignorance," Foxman said.
Three months earlier, Beck had already enraged Foxman, who survived the Holocaust as a young child, with radio and Fox News television broadcasts about the youth of billionaire George Soros, born in Hungary to Orthodox Jewish parents. Beck told a radio audience that Soros "used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here's a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps."
Foxman called Beck's account "offensive," adding that "to have the audacity to say - inaccurately - that there's a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, as part of a broader assault on Mr. Soros, that's horrific."
Hundreds of rabbis, including the heads of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, along with Orthodox rabbis, publicly urged Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch to sanction Beck for the Soros remarks. Undeterred even by being dropped from his Fox News television program in June, and by the fallout from having compared the victims of July's Norway massacre to Hitler Youth, Beck has assumed a prophet's intonation in urging his followers to stand with him in Jerusalem on August 24.
But Beck, true to mercurial form, could not resist taking a potshot at Israelis before boarding a jet to save Israel. In a segment titled "Radical leftists protest in Israel," he and two co-commentators on his GBTV webcast dismissed the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators as "obviously hard left," and their demands reminiscent of Soviet-style communism.
Beck also hinted that an "Islamist movement" had likely joined the protests. "I hate to even bring this up," he said, apparently in jest, "but the Islamists in Israel are saying that they'd like to have these riots - I'm sorry, these gatherings - every Friday now. Because they can help. They can go to the mosque, and then bring everybody out to the streets on Fridays. It's gonna be good."
Beck, with trademark sarcasm, then recalled his first visit to Israel 10 years ago. "Those Friday nights, they'd get out of the mosque, it was so great, because they were so moved by the spirit, they were so full of love and joy, and they would go right there to the Wall and drop giant stones on the heads of Jews who were praying underneath ... a beautiful gesture."
Last May, buoyed by the turnout at his August 2010 "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, Beck, at times seemingly on the verge of tears, assumed the slow cadence of a prophet to unveil a new goal. "There are forces in this land, and forces all over the globe, that are trying to destroy us," he said, announcing the upcoming Jerusalem rally, which Beck viewed, wrote religion scholar Joanna Brooks on the online Religion Dispatches magazine, as "a latter-day crusade to save the Holy Land from the Palestinians."
"They are going to attack the center of our faith, our common faith, and that is Jerusalem," Beck continued. "And it won't be with bullets and bombs. It will be with a two-state solution that cuts off Jerusalem, the Old City, from the rest of the world."
The irony, of course, is that the two-state solution is probably farther from reality now than it has been at any time in the last 18 years. In fact, smart money might well bet on the actual End of Days coming true sooner than two states.
But what is irony to a man for whom most Jews are not Orthodox enough and therefore not Jewish enough, for whom most Israelis are not hard-line enough and therefore not Israeli enough - to a man for whom some Holocaust survivors have not suffered enough, a man who knows better than the Jews what Auschwitz means, who Nazis are, what Israel needs, and how Jews figure in the greater plan of God and His Apostle Glenn?
And lest one suspect for a moment that he's not entirely serious, Glenn Beck tells followers that he's ready to give his all for the Jewish state. On his website, standing before an Israeli flag, he declares in a promotional video clip: "I will protect. I will defend. I will stand. I will speak. And in the end, if it be His will, I will die right alongside my brother. That is the stand."
"And yet he was more them than they were," wrote Howard Jacobson of a very non-Jewish character who wishes he were Jewish, in the appropriately riotous and perplexing 2010 novel "The Finkler Question." He "felt more for what they stood for than they, as far as he could see, were capable of feeling for themselves. He wouldn't have gone so far as to say they needed him, but they did, didn't they? They needed him."
Bradley Burston is senior editor at Haaretz.com.
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