Choose your friends wisely

Pro-Israel they may be, but are allies such as Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson really good for the Jewish state?

Glenn Beck Restoring Courage 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Glenn Beck Restoring Courage 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At times it seems the world is devoid of pro-Israel voices. Legitimate criticism aside, Israel is often held to a double standard and unfairly singled out for condemnation for its actions and policies. On several American college campuses, Israel Apartheid Week has become an annual event.
In the so-called UN Human Rights Council, the Jewish state is subjected to an endless drumbeat of indictment and demonization, fueling the global movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel through economic and cultural boycotts.
Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that the Jewish community should embrace support for Israel regardless where it comes from?
This is the question my 17-year old son Matan posed when he realized I didn’t share his enthusiasm for this summer’s announcement by US radio talk show host Glenn Beck that he’s forming a worldwide group to defend Israel against the UN and Israel-bashing human rights organizations.
Yes, we need to counter the global assault on Israel’s legitimacy, but it’s not the overly provocative, conspiracy- spinning Beck who should be leading the charge. Nor is Beck the only one whose support for Israel should make the Jewish community uncomfortable – televangelist Pat Robertson and Lebanese-American activist Brigitte Gabriel also come to mind (more on them later).
I am aware that Beck, whose August 21-24 “Restoring Courage” rallies in Israel attracted thousands of Evangelical Christians and rightwing Israelis, has his Jewish supporters.
Likud MK Danny Danon told CNN that he’s “very supportive” of Beck’s new initiative. Writing in the Huffington Post, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said, “Beck’s willingness to stand up for Israel must be accepted with gratitude.” The Zionist Organization of America, which praised Beck for his “moral clarity,” is featuring him as the keynote speaker at its annual dinner in November.
I’m not questioning Beck’s motives; in fact, he’s very articulate in his defense of the Jewish state. But there’s simply no room for Beck’s excessive baggage inside the pro-Israel tent. As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank put it in describing the former Fox News commentator, “It’s one thing to promote partisan journalism, but it’s entirely different to engage in race baiting and fringe conspiracy claims.”
Earlier this year, for example, Beck devoted an entire show on Fox to a conspiracy theory about how various bankers, among them the Rothschilds (Read: Jewish bankers), created the Federal Reserve to control US economic policy. To prove his claim, he turned to conspiracy author G. Edward Griffin, whose website promotes anti-Semitic themes.
The most frequent target of Beck’s invective, of course, is the Left, and, coincidentally, the majority of American Jews are non-Orthodox – and liberal. On his radio program last February, Beck stated that Reform Judaism is “more about politics [than religion]” and compared it to “radicalized Islam.”
So are we now to welcome Beck’s support for Israel? How can the Jewish community create and sustain a broad alliance of forces to counter the delegitimization of Israel if at the same time we embrace someone who denigrates the very progressive groups we need included in that coalition?
Whenever Israel is unjustly criticized, many of us circle the wagons. We find solace in every eloquent defense of Israel that we run across. Nevertheless, we must be more selective. Israel needs help, but help from certain ultra-conservative corners only exacerbates the negative image of Israel that its adversaries wish to propagate.
In this regard, Beck isn’t alone. There are few more steadfast defenders of the Jewish state than Pat Robertson, whose pro-Israel Christian news talk show, “The 700 Club,” airs throughout North America.
Robertson has said that he once made a lifelong vow to God that “I and the organizations I head would stand in support of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Regrettably, Robertson is also known for repeatedly denouncing homosexuality, abortion and feminism, even insisting that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were God’s punishment for these things. Could we be any more hypocritical were we to embrace his support for Israel and in the same breath extol Israel’s liberal credentials, which includes equality for sexual minorities?
The pro-Israel community faces a similar issue with Brigitte Gabriel, whose organization, ACT! for America, urges citizens to “speak out” in defense of America and Israel against the threat of radical Islam. Gabriel’s fervent pro-Israel (some would say anti-Islamic) stance has garnered her hundreds of speaking engagements with conservative Christian, and occasionally, Jewish groups.
In 2009, however, an incendiary speech Gabriel gave to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Women’s Division prompted the federation president to write a letter distancing his organization from Gabriel’s remarks. Indeed, if our goal is to build support for Israel as an open, multi-cultural society, about the last person you would choose as an advocate is someone who makes “unacceptable gross generalizations of Arabs and Muslims.”
None of this is to suggest that Jewish groups shouldn’t partner with the Evangelical community, which is far from monolithic. But aligning ourselves with individuals whose words are as polarizing and disparaging as they are pro-Israel isn’t the kind of support Israel needs.
The writer is the Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and, as a freelance writer, a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Report magazine.