Glenn Beck's Ambivalent Welcome in Israel

The conservative TV host's much-hyped rally drew little attention here, much of it negative

CAESARIA, Israel -- The tears came early for Glenn Beck. Holding a bible in his hand, his eyes moistened and his voice cracked only moments after he took the stage at the ancient Roman amphitheater of Caeseria, Israel in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000 on Sunday. Beck paced the stage, praising the righteous Gentiles of history who saved Jews from anti-Semitism, and spoke of the greatness of the Jewish people and the need to "love the Jewish people as they are."

Standing on the ancient ruins, Beck also spoke of what he called Jews' "2,000 year old flinch," which makes them shy away from affection from Gentiles (including, presumably, himself) because of "not just the Holocaust, but it's [persecution of Jews] happened over and over and over again."

Billed as "The Courage to Love", the evening was the first of three rallies planned for Beck's "Restoring Courage" visit to Israel, which the radio and former Fox News host has billed as an Earth-changing opportunity for "people who value freedom, honor and faith" to show their solidarity with Israel. Those in attendance on Sunday flew from across the United States and beyond as part of package tours to Israel for the event. Others present included local National Religious Jews and casual observers who took advantage of the free tickets given out for the event. According to Beck, the rally was also broadcast live at over 1,000 churches across America. The main event, "Courage to Stand," will be held Wednesday at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem, after initial plans to hold it at the Temple Mount were cancelled due to security concerns.

Far more tent revival than political rally, Sunday's event lacked the sort of red meat anti-Obama or Muslim-baiting rhetoric that had made Beck so popular among the American Christian right. He instead glorified Israel as a sort of city on the hill, a light unto the (Christian) nations of the world. The Judeophilia extended far beyond the praise of Zionism or the state of Israel and seemed to be an all-out love-in for Jews, cast in the role of God's chosen people and the creators of civilization.

The call to support Israel, which has recently been used as a wedge issue to lure Jewish voters, seems for Beck to be an essential component of the preacher and political savior package that drives his lucrative media empire. But among Sunday's attendants, the feelings did seem largely genuine. Those who had traveled across the world to be with Beck in Israel typically expressed a very non-cynical admiration of Israel, or at the very least a glorified Israel that stands as an embattled bastion of Westernism in a region ruled by tyranny and religious oppression.

Standing in a t-shirt depicting Samuel Adams with the word "Faith" written on the bottom, Maine native Marge Ripley, 65, said that she came to Israel for the first time to attend the event because she and other Beck listeners see Israel as an example of bravery to emulate. She said she believes that the Obama Administration is turning on its Israeli allies. A member of the Mormon church, Ripley said, "The way the news has been lately it doesn't seem that our leadership is really supporting Israel. It's a free country and it's the only free country in this area and we believe in freedom."

For Zane Zimmerman, a "non-denominational believer" from a small town outside of Oklahoma City, the rallies were the highlight of his 15th visit to Israel. "This world is very precarious right now, with the riots all over the world, the economic situation, and our White House has turned against Israel with what they're doing. And we're here to stand here and say the Jewish people have the right to live while the world is closing in on them again."

He added that he believes that the Obama administration "is turning on Israel and the American people do not support this."

When asked what Beck represents to him, he described the broadcaster as "someone who cares, someone who is sounding the alarm and doesn't mind living in the crosshairs." During his most recent visit to Israel in early July, Beck was feted by Israeli politicians during a meeting of the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, where he was invited by committee chair and right-wing parliamentarian Danny Danon of the Likud party. Danon invited Beck to speak to the committee about how Israel could help improve its image abroad. During his introduction, he said of his guest, "if we had no Glenn Beck today ... we should have invented a Glenn Beck."

Beck's currently ongoing visit got off to a rougher start. He arrived in Israel last Sunday, as Israel was already a month into the largest protest movement seen in the country in decades, possibly ever. Focused on social issues and the cost of living in Israel, the protests gained widespread support across the Israeli political and socio-economic spectrum, and drew over 300,000 Israelis into the streets across the country during a series of mass protests held a mere eight days before Beck's arrival.

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Ben Hartman is a reporter for the Jerusalem Post. Before that he was an editor and writer at Originally from Austin, Texas, he moved to Israel eight years ago and lives with his wife in Tel Aviv.

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