Glenn Beck and the Jewish Leadership Vacuum
The Sunday before last Glenn Beck appeared as a guest speaker at the Hamptons Synagogue in New York. This was the second in person Glenn Beck experience that I had participated in and surprisingly enough he was most warmly received by the audience, as Jews, especially of the New York persuasion are hardly known to support many of the principles he espouses. One almost felt that the full house of mostly older congregants, had gathered to huddle in the warmth of his loving and protective embrace.
“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God….Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried,” In has been a long time since these immortal words were uttered by a gentile, but in recent days Beck has repeated them over and over again. He insists that it was when he chanced upon this passage in Ruth while reading his Bible that he understood his true calling as guardian of Jewish courage and Israel’s nationalistic integrity.
On Sunday, Beck arrived in Israel, where, on August 24th his mission will reach its apex in Jerusalem where his ‘Restoring Courage’ rally will include two separate events, one at the Davidson Center in the Old City, and one in Safra Square. Beck told his Hamptons audience that his mission in Israel is to convey three distinct messages, the first to Christians, ‘don’t try and convert the Jews,’ the second, to remember past atrocities that have been perpetrated against the Jewish people, and the third, that all must stand courageously with Israel. In the meantime, Israeli personalities and politicians are practically waiting in line to meet with him. Ironic for a man that periodically draws the ire of anti-Semitism watchdog Abraham Foxman.
American politicians that are participating include Orrin Hatch, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe and Eric Cantor, and yes, despite Dana Milbank’s tantrum, thrown on the opinion pages of the Washington Post, Senator Joseph Lieberman will also be in attendance.
For a people and a nation that has so often stood alone, Beck appears as somewhat of a knight in shining armor, standing with the Jewish people, and with Israel in a world where we are growing increasingly isolated. Does it bother me that he is somewhat of a sensationalist, and periodically makes an outlandish pronouncement? Not really. That he cries on cue and appears to have messianic inclinations? No. I am not suspicious of his intentions, and am certainly not bothered if his activism is an effort to actualize Christian prophecy, nor do I feel that the few anti-Semites that he has hosted on his show make him a menace to society. Especially so, as his detractors seem more concerned by the caliber of a few of his one-off guests, than with the 20 year relationship between Barack Obama and his Black Power Pastor.
What bothers me about Glenn Beck, albeit by no fault of his own, is also what bothers me about many Jewish leaders today, namely that he tends to define the Jewish people through their victimhood. Is Beck an anti-Semite? Absolutely not. He defines Jews as many Jews define themselves.
In a letter on his website that introduces his ‘Rumors of War’ documentary, he explains his support for Israel, opening with the words ‘never forget,’ referring to the holocaust. He then continues, ‘as the world spirals into financial chaos and conditions continue to worsen, fingers are already being pointed to determine a scapegoat. The nation dubbed ‘Little Satan’ is one obvious candidate to be on the receiving end of the blame.”
It is true that we Jews have suffered but we should never become defined by it. The destiny of the Jewish people is not to ‘survive,’ in a defensive or reactionary sense; we are a revolutionary and aspirational people. We carry a message for humankind and a vision to build a better world.
He brought much needed attention to the Itamar massacre tragedy. “Beck has not only recognized the threat of this new anti-Semitism, but he’s become a leading opponent of it,” wrote CUFI head David Brog in the Algemeiner. These activities are commendable and vitally important, as an amalgamation of voices standing in defense of Israel led by Beck will send a powerful message to the enemies of the Jewish State around the world that Israel does not stand alone.
But perhaps Beck’s most significant contribution is that his activism has shown up one of the greatest Jewish failures of our time, our crisis in identity and definition. Greatly commendable, Becks actions and call for courage send a strong message to Jewish leaders of tomorrow; it is time to take the lead and convey the positive Jewish message to the world.