Glenn Beck's Israel mission has backfired

By Nathan Jeffay, September 1, 2011
Ultra-conservative Beck at his “Restoring Courage” rally in Jerusalem last week

Ultra-conservative Beck at his “Restoring Courage” rally in Jerusalem last week

When the ultra-conservative American broadcaster Glenn Beck arrived in Israel last week, he hoped to convince Israelis to feel closer to Christian Zionists like him. But his plan may just have backfired.

He arrived with hundreds of American Christians in tow, who enthusiastically cheered him as he prayed, cried and spoke of his love for Israel and the folly of everyone to the left of him.

Of course, Israel's politicians are so starved of friendly foreign visitors that many were very pleased to see him. Knesset speaker
Danny Danon and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, both from Likud, gave him a hero's welcome.

But ironically, he may have caused Israel's Jewish religious leadership to put up barricades against Christian Zionists. Until now, among religious Zionists, the issue of relations with evangelicals has been something of an elephant in the room. Though ideologically problematic, many choose not to think about it too much - the large number of evangelicals' dedication plaques on public buildings in the settlements may just have something to do with this.

But by coming with such a large group of Christians, holding such big events, and inviting religious Zionist figures, Beck has forced rabbis to pick a side in the until-now muted debate - and forced the subject to the centre of the religious Zionist agenda.

A few rabbis endorsed Beck and argued that Christians and Jews should become closer. Most notably, Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the settlement of Efrat, spoke alongside him. But Rabbi Riskin's conviction is already well known, and more significant is the fact that Beck's visit prompted other better-known
rabbis to make clear they rejected
his overtures.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was wooed by Beck's pro-Israel beliefs when the two met earlier this month and was videoed saying he hoped to say a prayer at one of the events. "A lot of angels are smiling for you," he told him.

But to Beck's undoubted embarrassment and the keen attention of religious Israelis, he pulled out when Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, Israel's most respected rabbi and his mentor, came out against him. When Peace Now activists protested against Beck, settler activists including Moshe Feiglin of the Jewish Leadership movement and Dov Lior, rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, declared their opposition too. Having such a clear target has buoyed the anti-missionary
movement Yad L'Achim.

Beck promised to change the state of Christian-Jewish relations, and he has. It is a long time since calls to shun Christian Zionists were heard so loudly among the Israeli Orthodox.

Last updated: 12:05pm, September 1 2011