GLENN BECK’S THREE-DAY “Rally to Restore Courage” in Jerusalem in August was an exercise in “exploiting Israel” in an effort at “restoring his credibility,” according to M.J. Rosenberg of Media Matters Action Network. Beck’s pilgrimage pledged to support Israel, a nation that Beck portrayed as challenged by misguided critics and “Islamic socialism.” Fusing entertainment and marketing, Beck promised the hundreds of fellow-travelers who would buy tickets for the event’s August 24 keynote a “life-changing, and I think planet course-altering, event” that “could be miraculous.” As it turned out, at the keynote he essentially declared himself founder of a global movement to take back the phrase “human rights” and stand up for “our responsibilities to our fellow man [sic].”
Ironically, Beck chose to do so on behalf of a country where human rights violations are severe. In reality the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” has become a “pieces process” of land seizures and displacement. Upward of 350,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories receive generous government housing subsidies, tax breaks, infrastructure, and security, all of which markedly reduce resources available to municipalities inside Israel proper. That’s just one source of frustration driving the recent street protests in Israel.
Public discourse is threatened when there is no critique of Israeli policies and Christian Zionist prejudices. Land heresy (“it is all ours”) and xenophobia (“all Palestinians want to destroy us”) fuel the illegal occupation of Palestinian and Bedouin land. This, and other oppression by a fragile Israeli coalition government, is supported by $3 billion in annual U.S. aid.
Yet in the U.S., protecting Israel ranks relatively low among the public’s Middle East priorities—after preventing terrorism, lowering oil prices, preventing attacks on civilians, and spreading democracy, according to a survey this spring by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Even 49 percent of Republicans think it should not be a “very important” goal to defend Israel.
Only 34 percent of mainline Protestants and 36 percent of Catholics believe protecting Israel should be “very important,” and there are an increasing number of evangelicals sensitive to Palestinian suffering. More than 50 percent of 2,000 world evangelicals polled at the Third Lausanne Conference of World Evangelization in Cape Town last year said they sympathized equally with both Israel and Palestine, with only three in 10 U.S. respondents stating a greater loyalty to Israel. A shift in thinking among evangelical leaders follows patient advocacy by independent organizations and churches; a number of films such as With God on our Side, Little Town of Bethlehem, Lemon Tree, and Budrus have brought awareness of the area’s injustices and nonviolent responses to them.
Pilgrims making a whistle stop in the Holy Land, as Beck did, face a grave trap. As the adage goes, “When in Jerusalem a week, you know the solution for peace; after a month, you have doubts; but after a year, you have no idea how to move things in a positive direction.” Beck was just the latest to offer quick-fix solutions, ignoring advice and polling data before his event. A trusted friend present at the final rally told me, “It was clearly a clown show—however, a deeply offensive and recklessly provocative one.”
Beck skirted the edge of dangerous self-delusion by comparing himself to the heroic Dietrich Bonhoeffer and by daring to say that “possibly for the first time in man’s [sic] history, God will remember” what God’s group of modern-day crusaders is doing in the Holy Land.
Sadly, Beck missed an opportunity to call all the children of Abraham together to find the road to mercy and justice.
Tom Getman served as Sen. Mark Hatfield’s legislative director from 1976 to 1985 and with World Vision for 25 years, including five years as national director in Jerusalem.