Glenn Beck
U.S. commentator Glenn Beck appearing in Caesarea on Sunday August 21, 2011. Photo by Hagai Frid
Text size

Some 3,000 people, mostly American Christians, filled the seats at the amphitheater in Caesarea on Sunday night for 90 minutes of a show hosted by Glenn Beck - the first of his much-hyped, and much-discussed, three-night run in Israel.

The evening's opening act, a dissection of Israel's significance that felt more like a news channel studio debate than a live show, was followed by video footage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he vowed that "Jerusalem must never be divided." This statement won the first of many raucous rounds of applause of the night.

Beck actually spoke relatively little (although he did manage to cry often), giving the floor over instead to his main guests - historian David Barton, Efrat founder Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and author Mike Evans.

All three did pretty much what they were presumably booked for: Barton brought historical gravitas to the words of the Bible; a moist-eyed Evans recounted a traumatic childhood of anti-Semitic taunts from which he was saved by a vision of Christ; and Riskin spoke of Jewish appreciation for the support of the Christian pro-Israel community, and in particular that of Glenn Beck, who, according to Riskin, is a "deeply patriotic American, a true friend of Israel."

"We are not alone," Riskin said. "We are Jews and not Christians; you Christians, nevertheless, have the courage to love us in our otherness.

"We are profoundly grateful for your courage to love us and stand with us," he added.

It all seemed carefully scripted, even down to the screens with lyrics of the Hebrew songs transcribed in English. The determination to stand by Israel and the devotion to the Jewish State was palpable, and oft declared.

Like Woodstock and Glastonbury, the headline name came last, and unlike Riskin et al, Pastor John Hagee got a standing ovation the moment he strode onto the stage. The most vehement of the speakers, he drew an analogy with JFK and his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, when he announced "Ani Yisraeli" (I am an Israeli ). He then coaxed the crowd into repeating his mantra: "I am an Israeli!" they chanted over and over.

And the evening closed with words of wisdom from the host: "We bring truth, we bring peace, we bring support, we bring comfort," Beck said of his reason for bringing his roadshow to Israel as he closed off the evening. "Let the Jewish people know, no matter what our governments may say, we are not our governments, we stand with you."

But ultimately, this was just a warm-up for Wednesday night, when around 2,000 people will join Glenn in a sold-out event at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem.

Wednesday night's event will "issue a challenge to all citizens of the world to stand with and declare their support for Israel," the handout distributed at the beginning of the evening stated.

And for those who expressed a little cynicism over Beck's real motives for his presence: Last night's show was aired in more than 80 countries, as Mr. Beck debuted his new television channel, GBTV.