Monday, September 12, 2011

Glenn Beck, Israel, and Mormon Eschatology

[I wrote the following article for a new website dedicated to Jewish news. Due to editorial disagreement, the piece appears at in a redacted form. I remain committed to the missing pieces, so I thought it worthwhile to post the original version to my personal blog, as well. In the interest of seeing that I am not competing with my own client, I would like to point out that this piece is merely an expansion to an article written for and first published at . And I ask that anyone who is interested in Jewish affairs visit that site for more such news in the future.]

In August, the controversial conservative commentator Glenn Beck embarked on a highly-publicized tour of Israel, which he had dubbed “Restoring Courage.” Before the event even concluded it elicited a wide range of responses from Israeli and world media, Jews of different political stripes, and followers and opponents of Beck within the United States. Much of the media in Israel gave only light coverage to Beck’s visit because most people outside of the U.S. simply don’t have reason to recognize or attach significance to his views or activities.

The evident purpose of Beck’s rally was to encourage an international movement to resist criticism and pressure being leveled against Israel by the United Nations, the European Union, human rights groups, and others. Because of his staunch support of Israel in context of the perception of overwhelming opposition, Beck was warmly welcomed by some prominent Israelis, even having addressed the Knesset on July 11th in an event organized by the Likud party’s Danny Danon. Commentary from the Jewish community suggests that some people are eager to support any non-Jewish voice that firmly sides with the state of Israel.

On the other hand, many have been wary of his personal intentions and the possibility of a Christian doctrinal interest in Israeli affairs. Heshy Rossenwasser, editor of the conservative Arutz Sheva news service effectively summarized both perspectives in an op-ed the week before the Restoring Courage rally:

“Any voice in the wilderness sounding a note of support to us comes as a breath of fresh air, and we welcome it with such ardor that we are willing to overlook potential faults and pitfalls – namely, that his seemingly pure and good-hearted motives just barely conceal political agendas and religious ideologies that ought to give Jews much pause.”

Beck’s opponents in America, both Jewish and non-Jewish, take issue with his seeming messianic mission and a strong tendency to intertwine his Mormon faith with his politics and social views. His stated support of Israel may well be in earnest, but there is a serious question of motivation at hand. Christian Zionism has a long history, grounded in evangelical and other conservative Christian beliefs regarding the end times and the second coming of Christ. The associated Christian prophecies range from vague frameworks of assumption about what is to come, to bizarrely specific accounts, but generally reflect the idea that the full restoration of the state of Israel must occur before the Christian prophecy of the second coming can be fulfilled. It is not clear whether Glenn Beck’s personal view reflects this idea, or how thoroughly formulated his beliefs about it are.

It’s also not clear what his views are regarding Judaism and the Jewish people in general. While he is presently being embraced by some members of the Jewish community for his vocal outrage against poor treatment of Israel in the world community, he has formerly come under fire from groups within the United States for ignorant language and commentary that evokes persistent notions of a Jewish conspiracy. In February of this year, Beck was quickly compelled to apologize for remarks that he made on his radio show comparing Reform Judaism to “radicalized Islam” and saying that they were akin to each other by virtue of both being politically-oriented.

Taking his distaste for social justice-oriented Jews farther while speaking on his show more recently, which now broadcasts online, Beck dismissed the housing protests that began in July in Israel, identifying the participants as far-left radicals, and drawing connections between them, communist ideology, and Islamists. The conspiratorial bent evoked by these kinds of statements is familiar in Glenn Beck’s broadcasts. Another fine example that is relevant to his unclear relationship with Judaism comes from January, when he was still employed by Fox News, at which time he claimed that a group called “the intelligent minority” had been conspiring to control people through propaganda for the past century. Eight of the nine people whom he implicated as prominent members of this minority were Jewish.

If Glenn Beck is the friend to Jews and to Israel that he claims to be, such discomforting beliefs and statements as these must be no more than coincidence and purely secular politics. If, however, they belie his fondness for the Jewish people, then his Restoring Courage tour and further advocacy for Israel must hide an ulterior motive. Beck’s devout Mormonism should be able to tell us something about his possible eschatological views. On the one hand, Mormon prophecy says that Zion, the new Jerusalem, will rise in North America, and thus one might suppose that there would be no explicit role for Israel to play in their end times scenario. However, Mormonism holds that the new covenant with Jesus does not supersede the covenant with Abraham, and that the Jews remain G-d’s chosen people, though destined to ultimately accept Jesus. This notion of eventual universal acceptance of the Mormon faith underlies Mormon belief in the baptism of the dead, which put the Church at odds with Judaism when it was revealed that they were baptizing holocaust victims.

There is a passage in the Mormon scripture called the Doctrines and Covenants, which says, “Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion. And let them who be of Judah flee unto Jerusalem.” In addition, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, stated in a talk in 1843 that Judah must return and Jerusalem be rebuilt along with its walls and Temple before the second coming of Jesus can occur. Thus, it is common Mormon belief that Israel will have a significant role to play in the fulfillment of Mormon prophecies, which must be preceded by the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy through the restoration of the Temple. Though religious interpretations are always certain to vary, these statements, together with the expectation that Jews will convert before the end times, suggest that some Mormons may advocate for the expansion of Israel on the same view as certain evangelicals, believing that the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy through the restoration of the Temple on the Mount is necessary to the fulfillment of their own prophecies of a second coming.

If Glenn Beck has such an idea in mind, it could give added meaning to his seeming embrace, in a broadcast immediately preceding his rally, of the Temple Institute, which is run by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who ran for the Knesset in the eighties as a member of the far right-wing Kach party, and “has argued that Jewish law does not allow Christians or Muslims to live in the land of Israel.” Without knowing more about Beck’s personal views regarding eschatology, it is mere speculation, but if he is interested in seeing gentiles flee to his own homeland in the United States, while Jews gather in an Israel with Biblical borders, then it makes good sense that he would align himself with Israelis who share a similar vision of racial exclusionism. No doubt his critics would see this as in keeping with his broader worldview, as well. Glenn Beck has a well-established history of drawing stark lines, whether between conservatives and liberals, communists and capitalists, believers and unbelievers, or Christendom and Islam.

If Glenn Beck is indeed engaged in a campaign in defense of Israel for reasons quite distinct from his personal feeling towards Jews and Judaism, it is little more than an alliance of convenience. And if one thinks that that is a far-fetched scenario, it is worth remembering that that is exactly the alliance being entered into by those Jews and Israelis who have embraced Glenn Beck on account of his presenting himself as a courageous, non-Jewish defender of Israel, despite their either not knowing who he is and what he stands for, or disagreeing with him outright on his various other controversial opinions.

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