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Glenn Beck, fear and the Jewish community

By Joseph Dana

There is an old joke about two stocky Austrian men walking down a street in Vienna. One of the men turns to the other with an open newspaper and says, “Here you can see again how a totally justified anti-Semitism is being misused for a cheap critique of Israel!” Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek often uses this joke to demonstrate how potentially dangerous some Christian Zionist support for Israel can be for the Jewish community. Indeed, the sentiment expressed in Zizek’s joke was on display last Wednesday as American political pundit Glenn Beck began his ‘restoring courage’ spectacle in Jerusalem.

Glenn Beck is one of America’s most controversial political commentators due to his mix of radically conservative politics and fiery anti-left rhetoric. This year, Beck’s vicious attacks of Democrats like George Soros got him fired from Fox News, the conservative 24-hour news channel owned by Rupert Murdoch, but it did not impede his programme of stoking the flames of conservatism in the United States.

After Beck was fired from Fox News, he set his sights on cultivating a close relationship with the Israeli government. In July, the newly independent radio host addressed a special session of Israeli politicians in Jerusalem. Beck openly endorsed Israel’s controversial policies in the occupied Palestinian territories using deceptive language to describe Israeli courage in the face of overwhelming problems with the Arab world. For Beck, Israel at the centre of a clash of civilisations and a global battle between good and evil.

For some in the Israeli government, worried about the wave of revolution sweeping the Middle East and Palestinian attempts to declare statehood at the United Nations in September, Beck has become a fast friend. Like other Christian Zionist leaders in the United States, Beck employs language saturated in fear of the Arab world and his complete lack of obloquy for Israel’s clear violations of international law fit nicely with Israeli campaigns to stem international isolation.

While Israeli leaders embrace Beck, many Jews in the United States have openly criticised him for using anti-Semitic tropes. Jewish leaders such the conservative Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League and Rabbi Eric Yoffe, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism have cited Beck’s routine references to anti-Jewish writers such as Elizabeth Dilling as evidence that Beck might not be a friend to the Jews.

Standing under the golden dome of the rock next to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Beck delivered a sunset speech about restoring “courage” in the US. He praised Israeli leaders deeply connected to the settlement project inside the occupied West Bank for their charity to Palestinians but mostly focused on attacking international bodies such as the United Nations who, in Beck’s imagination, unfairly tarnish Israel’s image. Praising Israeli courage in the face of adversity, Beck elevated Israel to a near mythic model of how Western countries should face the issues which define our age, most specifically, conflicts between East and West.

Just before his events in Israel, Beck labelled Israel’s tent protesters — a movement with 87% public support demanding a reallocation of economic resources inside Israeli society — as leftist socialists with possible links to global Islamic networks. The idiocy of his statements dried up much of Beck’s popular support inside Israel, a possible reason for the extremely low turnout to his events in Jerusalem and outside of Haifa, but did not stop the warm relationship between Beck and senior Israeli officials such as Likud Knesset Member and chair of the committee for immigration, absorption and diaspora affairs Danny Danon.

Towards the end of Beck’s sermon in Jerusalem he flatly rejected claims that Israel is practicing a form of Apartheid in the West Bank. “Next week, I am travelling to Cape Town to see what Apartheid really looked like,” Beck told a jubilant crowd of wealthy American Christian Zionists, “some say Israel is practicing Apartheid, and it is not!”

Compared with other diaspora communities, the Jews of South Africa have maintained extremely tight bonds with the State of Israel, formed in part because of a strict allegiance to Zionism formulated in Zionist youth movements’ which engender deep psychological bonds to the state and the idea of a Jewish national homeland. Unwavering support for Israel, no matter its policies, has been the majority trend among South African Jews, especially in the post-apartheid years. In comparison, the Jewish community of the United States — the largest and strongest in the world — has become more nuanced in its approach to Israel in the last 25 years.

Group 18, the pro-Israel advocacy outfit which hosted Beck in Cape Town, has dedicated enormous resources to defending an image of Israel which is light on factual analysis and heavy on an emotional pull, which describes an Israel under attack from international forces which seeks to isolate the small Mediterranean country through boycotts similar to the ones which helped to end apartheid in South Africa. While Group 18 is certainly the fringe of pro-Israel advocacy in South Africa, part of its success is the exploitation of fear and insecurity inside the Jewish community.

Efforts to protect Israel from international isolation over its treatment of Palestinians, similar to the isolation which South Africa experienced during apartheid, have pushed some of the most vocal pro-Israel supporters into the hands of people with narrow and dangerous political goals. As the international community wakes up to Israeli intransigence regarding international law and the occupation, Israel’s remaining friends might turn out to be anti-Semites.

Joseph Dana is a journalist based in Tel Aviv. He is a senior writer at the Israeli web


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  1. Larry Lachman Larry Lachman 3 September 2011

    A simple question needs clarification.

    Is the Palestinian territory (excluding Gaza which is now fully independent since 2005)under Israeli occupation, or is it to be defined as ‘disputed’ territory?

  2. Bravo Bravo 3 September 2011

    Before Obama’s election the dominant extremism that was rising among right wingers was their first love, Anti-Semitism with its over the top hulking of the Zionist threat against the “White” people. The war in Iraq was seen as a proxy war being fought by the US on Israel’s behalf by the neo-cons in Washington. They were even in agreement that Israel was practising apartheid. All sorts of conspiracy theories were coming to the fore. Even Obama was thought to be the latest Jewish project.


    Then walla the United States elected a a black President and after days of euphoria it dawned on them that Obama was indeed a reality and the right wing nightmare was on. Then the Becks and Limbaughs of this world went into overdrive. When Obama did not seem enthusiastic about the Israeli right wing policies unlikely allies found each other. Hence even dumb nut jobs from a country whose rhetoric and discourse has reached such apalling intellectual and logical depth.

    This is a case of my enemy’s enemy is my enemy. If Obama is removed then the country whose businesses shipped jobs to China, literally co built China, will assisted by the same rich people have to find a new scape goat and well it will be the Jews. Beck will have to go back to his natural self unless financial issues compel him otherwise.

  3. Bravo Bravo 3 September 2011

    Ooops, meant “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”

  4. Joel Joel 4 September 2011

    Joseph Dana, another turkey voting for Christmas…

  5. Isabella VD Westhuizen Isabella VD Westhuizen 4 September 2011

    Another American lunatic. Lord help us all.

  6. Charlotte Charlotte 4 December 2011

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
    Maybe Glenn Beck supports and admires Israel’s courage, tenacity and achievement.
    Why all the political conundrums? .

  7. Alaina Magpusao Alaina Magpusao 30 March 2012

    Hi Sarah, great to hear from you! Thank you very much for your enthusiasm for the book it means a lot to me that it means something to you. And thank you for doing the Dubai Eye show. Please say hello from me to the wonderful books community in Dubai. I loved being there in 2010 and I will be back next year for the Festival, which I’m already looking forward to. All good wishes Chris.

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