08.25.11

The Israeli Right’s New Best Friend

The world according to Glenn Beck is a simple place, at least in this respect: Criticize Israel’s West Bank settlements and you’re evil. Michelle Goldberg explains.

There was only space for about 1,000 people at the site of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Courage” rally near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and so the overflow watched it on a giant screen set up in Safra Square. By 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, a half hour before it started, most of the 2,000 seats were taken. A pre-show featured scenes from viewing parties all over the world, and at one point, it cut to South Carolina state Rep. Alan Clemmons, who recently succeeded in passing a state resolution claiming that because God deeded Israel to the Jews, there is no occupation of the  West Bank.

Clemmons was fulsome in his praise for Jews who have taken up residence on territory that Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.  “We look at those that are the settlers in Judea and Samaria, and we see our American pioneers of years past,” he said. “They are the heroes of that country.” The audience in Jerusalem, a mix of American Christians and Jewish Israelis, many of them conservative or orthodox, burst into applause.

At the culminating rally of his multi-day “Restoring Courage” Israeli event, Beck demonstrated that even in his new preacher mode, he hasn’t left politics behind. Next month, Palestinians are expected to petition the United Nations for statehood. The prospect alarms Israel because it could lead to further international isolation over an occupation that’s already condemned by most of the world, including the United States government. Beck’s rally painted international criticism of Israel as part of a swelling wave of evil menacing the globe, one that good people worldwide need to summon the courage to oppose.

“These international councils, these panels of so-called diplomats, condemn Israel not because they actually believe that Israel needs to be corrected, they do so because it’s convenient,” Beck said. “Diplomats are afraid. They’re cowards, and so they submit…The plotters plot and the schemers scheme and it is easy to tremble with doubt.”

He had even harsher words for human rights organizations that denounce Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. They have become “grotesque parodies of the principles they pretend to represent…and so today we dismiss them,” he said. The message was clear. Criticism of the Israeli occupation is mendacious and evil and must never, ever be seriously considered.

The evening before the rally, Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of settlers groups, had dinner with Beck. Dayan opposes a two-state solution, believing in the right of Jews to occupy all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In his vision Palestinians, if they insist on remaining, will have to live in permanent political inequality. Earlier, he’d spent time showing Beck around the West Bank, and was convinced that the broadcaster shared his views. “He understands perfectly well the historical perspective of the conflict, the moral perspective of the conflict, and the motivations of the parties in the conflict here,” Dayan told me. “And therefore I have a lot in common with him.”

For Dayan, Beck’s support is important in part because he considers Obama to be “the most anti-settler president” in American history, and a singular threat to his movement. Thus any help in swaying American opinion is valuable. “He’s a person who is able to rally multitudes not only in Jerusalem, but also in Washington,” said Dayan. “Of course it’s very important to receive that support.”

Beck’s rally painted international criticism of Israel as part of a swelling wave of evil menacing the globe, one that good people worldwide need to summon the courage to oppose.

Because Israel’s harshest critics compare its policies in the occupied territories to apartheid, Beck announced that the day after the rally, he was flying to South Africa. There, he will broadcast from Capetown “to remind the world what the evil of apartheid actually looked like.” After that, he’s heading to South America, where he plans to speak to an audience of 5,000 from throughout the continent, urging them “to join me in standing in defense of Israel and the Jewish people, responsibility and truth.” He plans to wrap it all up with a big speech in Texas.

Beck hinted that some who chose the brave path of defending Israel “may fall along the way. Some will have their reputations destroyed. Some will have their careers ruined or their businesses shuttered. Some may pay the ultimate price.” In other words, simply supporting Beck in his new Zionist crusade requires immense courage, and presumably deserves immense respect. “This is why you were born!” he exhorted. “This is why you were placed on earth at this time! It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. It matters only what you do from here.”  It’s a powerful message, this offer of salvation through politics. It also makes negotiation impossible. And that’s precisely the point.