BROOKLYN – Parallel universes do exist. Proof lay in the gathering, Tuesday night, of about 400 conservative Christians and Jews, fans of right-wing talk radio, who met to hear famous conservative talk show hosts speak about Israel at a party hall on the edge of famously progressive Park Slope.
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It was an evening in which U.S. President Barack Obama was declared an enemy of Israel and university education a threat to clear thinking. It was a night of whipping up the pro-Israel enthusiasm of the faithful as devout Christians and Jews, poles apart religiously, united in passionate support of the Jewish state.
The event, billed as a rally titled “Together We Stand With Israel,” was organized by the Christian Salem Radio Network, which has two stations in New York, one Christian and one devoted to conservative talk radio. Under gilded coffered ceilings amid a surfeit of rococo touches at Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall, usually home to lavish weddings, stars of the right − Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, Mike Gallagher and former Rep. Joe Walsh, with radio newbie but veteran comedian Joe Piscopo too − shared their views on Israel, the impossibility of peace with the Palestinians, the ineptitude of United States Secretary of State John Kerry (while mocking his Boston Brahmin accent), and the dangerous indoctrination Americans face when they go to college.
Audience members, who came from as far away as Montreal and New Jersey, were loudly enthusiastic. They energetically applauded the stars as soon as they ascended the dais and frequently thereafter, calling out “amen” throughout the gathering, which felt vaguely like a Christian tent revival even as the Orthodox Gershon Veroba wedding band played Jewish music.
Prager was, without a doubt, the night’s biggest draw.
Retired accountant Barry Herman drove in from Queens with his wife, Marilyn, and pal Phil White, paying $55 for each VIP ticket for the chance to meet and get a picture with Prager. Herman was also there to show his appreciation for the Christians who support Israel. “The left shows the most hatred of Israel,” said Herman, who is Jewish. “I’ve got to give these guys credit for supporting Israel. I’ll basically take the support wherever I can get it,” he said, while his wife surveyed the sushi table at the VIP reception preceding the panel discussion.
Prager said, during his opening remarks, that there is “cognitive dissonance” on the part of American Jews’ attitude toward American Christians. To a big round of applause, he said, “American Jews most fear Christians, who should be most trusted. They most trust the universities, which are their greatest enemies.”
He returned to the theme later. “The two great sources of danger” to America are “television and college,” said Prager to an adoring audience. Today “Columbia University is MTV with bigger words and the same nihilistic message.”
Each panelist easily established his conservative bona fides. “For the first time I can remember, we have a president who is an enemy of Israel,” said Illinois Tea Partyer Joe Walsh, who served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives and whose views on the Israel-Palestine conflict lie somewhere to the right of Naftali Bennett’s. The audience responded with a chorus of “amens.”
“Even worse,” Walsh continued, “we have too many American Jews who are not prepared to stand with Israel. Every Republican understands there is a vacuum in the White House when it comes to Israel.”
To shouts of “yes, yes,” from the audience, Walsh continued, “the country is asleep. Too many people are ignorant and dependent. We’ve grown fat, lazy and stupid.” To more applause, he said, “we need to act like we’re at war.”
Michael Medved said, “Kerry appears to be giving it his all to be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history.” He and Piscopo later took turns imitating Kerry’s accent.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, helped Salem executives put the evening together, offering his help after hearing about the planned gathering when listening to a Joe Walsh program. The Christian broadcasters “mean well, but are not so connected to the Jewish community,” Lerner told Haaretz after the event, estimating that the audience was about two-thirds Christian.
The evening’s moderator, Kevin McCullough, who has shows on both the Salem network’s New York Christian station and its conservative channel, will soon depart for Israel, taking a group of Christians with him. “We want to make sure that their itinerary includes Judea and Samaria, Greater Israel,” Lerner said.
Di Willis had come to the event from the Upper West Side, where she attends a “messianic” congregation, led by a “rabbi” born Jewish “who came to the Lord,” she said. The church, “Shaar Adonai,” “is a mingling with the Jews,” said Willis.
As we spoke a tiny old lady, with a hand-lettered sign taped to her bag saying “Jesus Christ is the truth and the life where you will spend eternity,” interrupted to shake hands with everyone around her.
The plan, Lerner later told Haaretz, is to keep doing similar events around the country, bringing conservative radio hosts to Christian churches to talk about Israel. “It’s important to get more Americans to show more support for Israel. I don’t care who does it,” he said.
“The Christian community, the evangelical community is powerful, they’re voting, and they have endless amounts of numbers. Israel doesn’t have a lot of friends. Those who are friends we want to say ‘thank you,’ we want to make more friends and at the end of the day it’s good for Israel. That’s the only agenda here.”