It is difficult to know how much time, if any, we should spend worrying about Glenn Beck.
First, it was the Holocaust. It has long been my view and the view of many others in the Jewish community that the Holocaust cannot and must not be compared to any other event in human history. As a matter of objective fact, it was different from other acts of genocide; we must remember genocide whenever it occurs, but we must remember as well why the Holocaust was absolutely unique. Making inappropriate Holocaust analogies or exploiting the Holocaust for political purposes is an insult to its victims.
When Mr. Beck did this, not once but repeatedly, I joined 400 other rabbis in signing a strong letter of protest. Political conservatives pointed out, rightly in my view, that Beck is hardly the only guilty party here; many political figures on left have been guilty in this regard. But the reason we singled out Mr. Beck in the ad was simply that he has been wildly popular and therefore has had a far larger audience than others who have made the same error.
Now, rather than deal directly with the Holocaust issue, Mr. Beck has decided to create a diversion and attack the rabbis who signed the ad. He claimed that they were all Reform rabbis, and then went on to proclaim that Reform rabbis are lacking in faith and are generally political in nature, “almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way.” His comparison, he stressed, was “not about terror,” but “about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith.”
This is interesting on many levels. In the first place, not only Reform rabbis signed the ad; Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist rabbis also participated. In the second place, on what grounds precisely does Mr. Beck have the audacity to make such judgments? If he wishes to disagree with a position that any Reform rabbi may have taken, fine; we welcome the discussion. But Mr. Beck is hardly in a position to be the arbiter of what is spiritual or what is not, who has faith and who does not, and what constitutes religion and what does not. I respect his religious tradition and I demand that he respect mine. Particularly outrageous is his comparison of Reform Judaism with “radicalized Islam.” While noting the Reform Judaism is not about “terror,” he implied the opposite—or, at the very least, that the religious faith of the largest segment of North American Jewry is extremist and fanatic.
Mr. Beck’s comments are offensive to Jews, Moslems, and Christians alike. Speaking in sweeping generalizations about other religious traditions is offensive. Imputing radicalism and fanaticism to large religious groups is offensive. Dismissing the heartfelt religious beliefs of millions of Jews throughout the world is offensive.
There have been indications that Mr. Beck is losing his audience because of his increasingly extreme views. This sad and tragic incident indicates why this may be the case.