There was plenty of undisguised glee and schadenfreude when Glenn Beck’s show was removed from the Fox News airwaves. After working for Sojourners and Jim Wallis, whom Beck made a characteristic target of his trademark conspiracy theory smear campaigns, it was just a little bit vindicating to see someone whom even Bill O’Reilly considered crazy lose his place on the most-watched cable news network.
So was I shocked and disturbed to learn that Beck would be headlining the annual conference of Christians United for Israel—one of the largest and most influential Christian Zionist organizations? Nope—not even a little bit. You see, I’m observing a slow but steady shift within American evangelicalism away from what I call “default Zionism” to a better informed view that calls for a just peace that provides secure futures for both Palestinians and Israelis. The leaders of this shift are people like Lynne Hybels, Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, and countless grassroots activists that have patiently educated their communities about the realities of the Israeli occupation and the deep theological flaws of Christian Zionism. Palestinian Christian voices like Jean Zaru, Naim Ateek, Alex Awad and many others have long been consistent sources of prophetic inspiration for this movement, calling their Western sisters and brothers to account. I also see positive signs in the American Jewish community, but that’s another blog post.
But why am I not dismayed that a year after standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial—on the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech”—Beck is now coming to stand on even holier ground to lead a Zionist rally in Jerusalem? (This is getting close to home, literally, as Beck has suggested that the location might be the Mount of Olives, where I now live.) But as I see it, the more extreme the most visible and vocal advocates of such views become, they more marginal they become in mainstream society. Think about it—this guy just had his show on Fox News cancelled because he was too “out there” for Fox freaking News.
Now he’s making ignorant and incomprehensible statements as the new poster boy for blind and unthinking support of Israel right-or-wrong. Israel, I give you your champion:
You have to think out of the box. The way to do that is to tell the truth. Everyone feels the truth, in the gut. My message to you is: ‘stop playing the game’. We in the West are being set up. Israel is being set up. …
Truth is the underdog, underdogs always win! I just visited Auschwitz. It profoundly changed me. I’m making a documentary about Jewish heroism in the Holocaust. Those struggles taught me of what goes on today. The struggle of today is: can the individual rule himself? It’s not the victim you can become. Man has tasted freedom! … Israel is the ultimate story! Yes! man can rule himself! Amen! Amen!! Amen!!!!
Apparently, this speech received wild applause when it was delivered to the Knesset in early July.
Then there’s this gem from the CUFI conference. I include the droll commentary from PNN:
Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has decided to seek United Nations recognition for the Palestinian state in September.
In response to Abbas’ move, Glenn Beck, the keynote speaker at this year’s Christians United for Israel summit said, “When has a state been declared a state by a global body?”
Beck’s assertion was not in reference to the 1947 United Nations resolution that recommended the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, but rather irritation directed at the Palestinian Authority for shifting tactics in their push for a Palestinian state.
I have no doubt that Beck will draw a crowd this August. Apparently all 600 VIP seats for his rally sold out at $5000 a pop. There will always be a hard core of extremists on all sides of this conflict. (And some coverage shows that even Beck is not extreme enough for some of Israel’s leadership.) What gives me courage is that such extremists are becoming more marginalized by factors like the Arab Spring and other grassroots movements that are predominantly nonviolent.
During my time at Sojourners, we sometimes referred to Beck as our “Bull Connor”—the racist police official that Martin Luther King Jr. squared off against in Birmingham, Alabama. In such a struggle, having enemies willing to play the part of the predictable villain was key to generating nationwide outrage by exposing the real face of segregation—police dogs, fire hoses, beatings, and all. Glenn Beck is one such useful idiot in the battle for hearts and minds in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If you still doubt me, he compared the teenage victims of the Norway terrorist massacre to “Hitler Youth.”
Keep talking, Mr. Beck.
I think the Glenn Beck rally will have a clarifying effect on American Jewish moderates. They’re going to say: I wish Israel luck, but this is not for me.
Beck is going to make post-Oslo, 21st century Israel a headache and an embarrassment for lots more American Jews – not just liberals, but moderates, too.
He’s going to polarize attitudes toward this country even more than they already are. He’s going to “energize the base” but alienate the mainstream. He will win no new converts for Israel‘s cause, but he will turn a lot of “undecideds” against it.
And I can’t wait. Post-Oslo, 21st century Israel is too far gone, too fearful and hateful, for gradual change. It needs radical change, and that means it has to get worse and worse until it hits the wall, until it alienates too many people in its world – and only then will it be shocked and scared into sanity.
So come on, Glenn. Do not tarry. Light up the sky over Jerusalem, televise this extravaganza, proclaim the covenant between Israel and whack-job America for all to see. We need an apocalypse around here – not a literal one like you and your friends are praying for, but a political one. And I couldn’t think of a better meshuggeneh for the job.