CON: Glenn Beck Rally in Jerusalem: Bad for the Jews!

Glenn Beck

(from the Opinion section of

Find the pro column here: Glenn Beck’s unwavering support for Israel

Glenn Beck is a fundamentalist-extremist. His upcoming rally, on Aug. 24, “Restoring Courage” in Jerusalem is nothing more than a media-driven, money-making, self-serving, end-of-times messianic-lunacy circus show, and that is the very last thing Jerusalem and Israel need at this moment.  I wish that I could dismiss Beck’s rally as not worthy of comment, but with so many Americans — including, to my sheer amazement, some Jews — following Beck’s entertainment programs, coupled with his multimillion-dollar wealth, unfortunately Beck has to be taken seriously.  Not as a thinker, but as a political phenomenon whose words influence others and thus have real consequences.

Jews have seen our share of false messiahs, including Shabbtai Tzvi and Meir Kahane, and we know how damaging their message can be.  A former DJ and comic, Beck reinvented himself as a self-proclaimed prophet of God, which is the first sign that he is a fraud. (In the last year, though, Beck has lost one-third of his audience, which shows that false prophets aren’t always profitable.)  But, when he decides to bring his circus to the streets of Jerusalem, then the Jewish community must call him out and expose his long track record of lies, fear-mongering and anti-Semitic rants.

Why is anyone in the Jewish community embracing him?  Of the nine people on Beck’s list of “the most dangerous people in the world,” eight are Jews.  This is a friend of the Jewish people?  He has compared Reform Judaism to radical Islam, mistakenly calling both political, not faith, movements.  This is a friend of the Jewish people?  His mentor and guru, Mormon extremist W. Cleon Skousen, is a well-known racist and anti-Semite whose book, “The Five Thousand Year Leap,” is too extremist even for the conservatives.  This is a friend to the Jewish people?  And Beck himself was called out for his anti-Semitic attacks on George Soros, who might not be everyone’s favorite Jew, but Beck claimed, falsely and slanderously, that Soros helped to kill Jews in the Holocaust.  More than 400 rabbis, myself included, joined with many mainstream Jewish organizations to expose Beck’s venomous lies.  Glenn Beck is no friend of the Jewish people.  In fact, he is one of the most dangerous, albeit well-disguised, enemies of the Jewish people.

Now he is going to Jerusalem, a tender yet volatile city, which sits at the center of the conflict in the Middle East. Beck will “stand with Israel” by preaching that the two-state solution will be the death of Israel.  Again, if he wasn’t so well financed, I would just laugh and ignore this nonsense.  Beck is good at reading cue cards, but it is clear from watching his show that he has absolutely no knowledge of the history of the Middle East conflict, the realpolitik that is involved in negotiations or the serious reality that Israel is facing as it fights for its future and survival.  And, because he lives in the fantasy world of false messianic fervor, he doesn’t care about what is really happening. Jerusalem is a tinderbox, and pulling stunts like this can only lead to an explosion.

The two-state solution, and President Barack Obama’s attempts to revitalize negotiations based on the same set of principles all presidents, prime ministers and negotiators in the Middle East have used for decades, is the only hope for Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state. But Beck doesn’t care about that because the messianic vision of the “end times” actually involves the destruction of Jerusalem, which paves the way for the Second Coming. This is why Beck and the whole Christians United for Israel movement is actually a false front of “support for Israel,” which, sadly, many Jews have bought into as true support.  In the interfaith work that I do, though, Muslim, Jewish and, especially, Christian colleagues of mine all agree: Glenn Beck is bringing nothing positive with regard to the healing of our fractured world.

In fact, Beck’s rally is actually a dream come true for Hamas and Hezbollah. They are, unwittingly perhaps, Beck’s radical, religious fundamentalist partners in crime who also crave the war to end the world. Lovers of Israel, friends of the Jewish people and seekers of peace should do some praying of our own: Pray that Israel doesn’t grant Beck a permit for his circus show. This could be one of the smartest things the Netanyahu government ever does.

Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.  He currently also serves as chair of AFPI, Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative.

AFPI member Salam Al Marayati comments on Blasphemy laws

AFPI member Salam Al Marayati comments on Blasphemy laws on the Huffington Post.

AFPI in Interfaith Dialogue on Middle East

AFPI members recently modeled interfaith dialogue on the Middle East at Pepperdine University.  See the attached video!  AFPI on YouTube

Interflavor Relations: A Children’s Story

You may have heard a story about how it is that people in the world came to speak different languages. It happened because a long, long, long, long, long, time ago, when everyone spoke the same language, they all decided to build a tall, tall, tall, tall, tall, tower to try to reach God. They thought God was way, way, way, way, way up and if they built this tall, tall, tall, tall tower, they would get to God! Now God knew that God was (and still is) Everything and Everyone and… Everywhere. God IS up in the sky, but the sky, even including the sun and the moon and the stars, is just a tiny, small part of what God is. So, God is not just up, but everywhich way around and down and all over and under and through. God is things that are so big you can’t help but notice them and things so small you can’t even see them! God is right in front of your nose. God IS your nose. And God is things and people and animals and plants on the other side of the world.

God was REALLY concerned for the people from a long, long, long, long time ago who were building this tall, tall, tall, tall tower because they thought that God was only way, way, way, way up. So…God tried to speak to the people. God spoke from some of the OTHER places that God is, besides up, so that they would know that God was, REALLY, everywhere and everything.
God spoke to them as a beautiful, colorful, delicate butterfly flying by the tall, tall, tall, tall, tower they were building. As you might imagine, a butterfly voice is pretty quiet, so when the butterfly tried to talk to the people and get them to stop building, they paid no attention. They didn’t even notice how beautiful and colorful and delicate the butterfly was and they certainly didn’t understand that God WAS the butterfly.

So, God decided to do something a little more distracting. God spoke to the people as a swarm of tiny, black hungry mosquitoes flying into the people’s ears and telling them that God is not just up in the sky; God’s the mosquitoes, too. But the people didn’t listen carefully to the mosquito voices. All they heard was bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz and they swatted the mosquitoes away and kept on building taller and taller and taller and taller.

Then God spoke to them as a windy, rainy, thundering storm. The people got very wet in the rain and were very frightened from the thunder and lightening. They had to hold on tightly to their, as yet, unfinished tower because the wind nearly blew them off. Still, they hung on and kept building.
Now God was REALLY worried. God spoke to the builders as their little children calling out to their parents from far below at the bottom of the tower. They said, “Mom, I miss you! Please come back!” and “Dad, I’m sleepy. Come down and read me a bedtime story!” and “Mom, I’m hungry! I need something to eat!” But the parents were so high up now that they couldn’t hear their little children anymore. This is when God knew that God had to do something drastic.

So…out of the butterflies and the mosquitoes and the rain and the thunder and the wind and the little children and the Everything and Everyone and Everywhere that God was and is came something brand new: Different languages. When the people started speaking different languages they couldn’t talk to each other. They couldn’t help each other. They couldn’t figure out what needed to be built next and how. They couldn’t ask, “Could you please pass the hammer?” or “Does anybody have a pair of pliers?” or say “Let’s stop for a while and have lunch!” The languages were so new inside of them, they couldn’t even teach them to each other because they didn’t know what they were saying themselves! So, finally, they stopped building and climbed down the tower.

When they got to the bottom, things didn’t get any better. In fact, things actually got worse. The people only wanted to speak with other people who spoke their language. So they searched around for those people and when they found them they built their houses next to each other and lived in new places they called countries and only people who spoke that language could live in that county. And all the people with the same language had children who were also taught that same language. They also taught the children what to believe and how to think and to be very proud of their language and their country and their country’s way of thinking, which they called “faiths.” Sometimes people from a different country with different thoughts who spoke a different language accidentally wandered into a country other than their own. Oy! It was as bad as the tower! No, it was worse! People didn’t even TRY to understand one another, all they knew is that this other person spoke funny, wore funny different clothes, did funny dances, played different and funny instruments, played games that looked, well…dumb and they also had a different faith! The people from the different countries with different languages started fighting NOT because they UNDERSTOOD each other and disagreed. Instead, they fought about what they DIDN’T understand! And that’s pretty much the way it’s been until today.

People have tried all kinds of things to make peace between countries: talking, singing and dancing together, making art together, planting trees. For peace, people would create large remembering statues called memorials to remember all the people who fought and died over different languages and different faiths and different dances and games. The artists of the memorials hoped that the people who saw them would say – “Fighting and dying for different languages and ways of thinking is…dumb!” But very few people responded that way. For peace, they would have thinking discussions called “InterFAITH Relations Conferences.” At the end, everyone would hug and say how wonderful the conference was. But when they’d go back to their own countries and their own languages and their own faiths they’d forget about the interfaith stuff until the next conference.
Today we’re going to try something that no one has tried before to make peace between the different peoples. We’re going to try…ice cream! Not any ice cream will do. It must be special, “interFLAVOR relations” ice cream. Here’s what’s in InterFLAVOR Relations ice cream:

  • Chips – because some people don’t think new thoughts for themselves; they become little chips of something bigger. Remember that when you eat a chip and try to help limited thinkers to think beyond themselves.
  • Marshmallows – because talking with people who are REALLY different can get pretty sticky sometimes. But…if we STICK with it, it can turn out pretty sweet.
  • Nuts – because it sometimes seems to us that ALL people from different faiths and different cultures are nuts! Some people DO get pretty crazy about their own faith and that’s too bad and that happens in every group and every country. But the goal of interFLAVOR relations is to help all of us know that different isn’t “nuts.” Different is just…different.
  • Ribbons of caramel and fudge – because just one of them wouldn’t be enough to hold everything and everyone together and because when you’re making your very own ice cream flavor you don’t have to choose between them. You can have both!
  • And finally, green ice cream with brownies and blueberries – the colors of the Earth – Not the color of anyone’s skin. These colors are really all of our colors anyway, because we all live here, all our bodies come from the earth and all our bodies go back to the earth.

Can an unusually flavored ice cream help bring peace between the countries of the world? I hope so. I don’t know for sure, but…it can’t hurt and it will taste good!

War and Peace – A Rosh Hashanah Sermon

By Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, Beth Shir Sholom, Santa Monica, CA, High Holy Days 2007

One of my favorite stories for this time of year is about a Jew who has her tallit cleaned just before the High Holy Days by the same drycleaners – owned by a Mr. Goldberg. One year she brings her tallit to the cleaners only to find the establishment has been sold to a new owner, a Mr. Wu, who promises her that he will do as good a job cleaning her tallit if not a better job than the previous owner. When she comes back for her cleaned and pressed tallit, Mr. Wu shows it to her, smiles and says, “You see! What a beautiful job I did! Also, I took care of all of those knots that Goldberg never untied!”

Of course, ignorance of someone else’s cultural or religious customs can sometimes be an advantage. A legend says that several centuries ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Rome. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave. The Jews realized that they had no choice. So they picked a man named Moishe to represent them. Reb Moishe’s Latin wasn’t very good – in fact, he knew very little–but he was well respected in the Jewish community. The Pope agreed to debate Moishe. What could be easier than a silent debate? The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple. The Pope stood up and said, “I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay.” An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said: “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to tell me that there is only one God. Then I waved my fingers around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground emphasizing, given that we were debating about whether or not the Jews should leave Rome, that God was right here with us in this city. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?” Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe. “What happened?” they asked. “Well,” said Moishe, “First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And then?” asked a woman. “I don’t know,” said Moishe. “He took out his lunch and I took out mine.”

Lack of knowledge about customs, ceremonies, and the social and geographical contexts of other nations has, throughout history, certainly been the cause for diplomatic faux pas, in the very least, and has even led to war. The fragile nature of inter-cultural exchanges was certainly on our minds when Toby and I traveled with some friends to Morocco last fall. Suffice it to say, it was an amazing trip. Just before we left, I saw a report on the TV news about how our US troops were greeted upon first arriving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The video showed pictures of people lining the streets as American troops came into a given town. The locals were smiling and lifting their hands in the air in a two thumbs up sign which was being enthusiastically returned by our soldiers. However, the report said that in the Middle East, particularly in countries with an Arab or Muslim population, the thumb thrust up in the air is akin to a middle finger on the hand in America being similarly raised. Honestly, in all the excitement that led up to our departure, we pretty much forgot about that gesture and its local meaning.

In Morocco, we very dependent on our guide, Mohammed, and were especially impressed with our driver. Many of the journeys were long and our driver’s stamina, concentration and skill were admired and appreciated by all. Along the way, Mohammed would give us options as to where we might go and what we might do next. There usually wasn’t too much discussion but when we all made a decision, Mohammed smiled and we gave a double thumbs up! That’s when we remembered the news story! After recounting what we had learned about hand signals in the Arab world, Mohammed shyly said that we were correct, but he also told us not to worry. And we didn’t although we regularly caught ourselves putting our thumbs up and we quickly tried to correct ourselves by switching to a thumb and first finger OK circle – and Mohammed smiled. That’s how things went, one of those quirky little bad inside jokes of a trip that was only funny to the people ON the trip until one day we were driving along on one of those long, long drives between major sites and we were suddenly, and dangerously, cut off by another vehicle. As our driver compensated for the inconsiderateness of the person behind the wheel of the other car, both he and Mohammed, with a look of anger we had never seen, thrust their thumbs at the offending driver. Our little inside joke took on new meaning!

Before we left for Morocco many people asked Toby and me how we felt about going to an Arab country. Frankly, we felt fine about being in an Arab country. What I’ve always believed about people turned out to be true about our trip to Morocco: most people just want to go about their daily lives, take care of themselves and their families and have a little success and some measure of happiness. To some of the children we met in Morocco, success and happiness were chocolate and crayons. To some of their parents, it was making a sale. To others, it was making music or meeting a friend at the communal bakery or watching soccer on TV at a coffee shop. I was not threatened by these people and they were not threatened by me. They are not terrorists or suspected enemy combatants. I cannot imagine going to war against them. They’re not that different than I, except for which finger of the hand delivers an insult.

Some of us are old enough to remember a bumper sticker from the 60’s that asked: “What if they gave a war and no one came?” I have learned since those heady days of protest that am not a pacifist but I am very much anti-war and I am tired of and completely opposed to this country and others coming out for wars as if they make sense and will really accomplish anything.
I am convinced that violence and war ultimately are futile and the perfect example of that wonderful definition of insanity that some attribute to Albert Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Every outbreak of human destructiveness upon other humans is followed by a false sense of security and a feeling of permanent peace. Neither of these feelings is true because resorting to war ALWAYS means that those who used it MUST be prepared to use it again and again in order to defend any momentary and fragile cessation of violence they might have achieved. In essence, we are fighting the same war that we have fought since the beginning of massive human conflict.

This is not only true for the current war that we Americans are fighting in Iraq; it is true for all wars fought by this country and all others. Still, the current war in Iraq can serve as a helpful barometer as to how our Jewish values are applied to the insanity of war. Listen to these values, these MANDATES!, from Jewish tradition used to strengthen resolutions made this year against the war in Iraq by my local Reform rabbinic association and by the Executive Committee of the Union for Reform Judaism. The values include:

  • The obligation to vigorously pursue peaceful options before the use of force can be justified (Deut. 20; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:1), peaceful options that cannot include sanctions that ultimately starve innocent civilians because we are also commanded: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. And if she is thirsty, give her water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21).
  • Additionally, Jewish tradition is unequivocal in its command to protect civilians (MT Melachim 6:7), the obligation to defend innocents [derived from the duty to rescue (Lev. 19:16: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor;” BT Sanhedrin 74a, Baba Kama 28a, Shulchan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 425) as well as the obligation to provide for the protection of environmental and economic infrastructures that would allow civilian life to resume as soon as possible after warfare [derived from the rules of bal tashchit (do not waste), Deut. 20:19-20; Ibn Ezra commentary on Deut. 20:19; MT Melachim 6:10].

To go to war and ensure that these values are being upheld in ALL instances and in EVERY endeavor by EVERY soldier in the field, EVERY guard watching prisoners and EVERY civilian administrator makes it nearly impossible to go to war in the first place! None of these principles, we now know, were included in the plans for the current war with Iraq, and they are rarely in the plans for most wars. We can all recite the atrocities carried out against us by the many enemies of Americans and Jews, but we should be as quick to see our own values-violations in war by bringing to mind such examples as the firebombing of Dresden, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the defoliation of Vietnam, the strafing of villages with Napalm, and the destruction of electrical and other infrastructures as a standard policy of Israeli incursions into Gaza and Lebanon.

All of this has brought us nowhere. We are no safer now than we have ever been. Further, war robs societies of the means to fulfill their daily obligations, to say nothing of any goals they might have for the future. The current war is obscenely expensive. Its costs can be measured in many ways. One website,, enables one to visit a locality such as…Santa Monica and see just how many federal dollars have been diverted from a small city like ours and what those dollars could have purchased. The site estimates this city has lost over $150 million (so far and increasing at the rate of $1 per second) that could have placed over 19,000 children in Head Start; insured over 87,000 children for one year; hired over 2,500 teachers; built over 1,300 units of affordable housing; or offered over 7,000 high school seniors scholarships to attend a public university for four years.

All of these would have been worthwhile investments in ourselves, but such self-serving investments are not the kind of expenditures that would PREVENT wars from happening in the future. Those would be investments in others and not ones that are made altruistically either. These investments would be for the very self-serving purpose of making friends out of current or potential enemies and sowing the seeds for peace.

As most of you know my son, Hart, graduated Brandeis University a year ago this past May. The commencement speaker was Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan. He is, by any measure, a visionary. Honestly, at the time, I was very inspired, but I think I must have considered him too much of an idealist until now because I did not share his thoughts with you. Today, his words do not feel like lofty dreams. In light of current realities, they are the strongest and most practical ideas I believe I have heard.

Prince ibn Talal said to this wonderful gathering of students and proud families:

“I am a Marxist — of the Groucho kind. Groucho Marx once said that ‘military intelligence is a contradiction in terms,’ and with no disrespect to anyone, we do have to think beyond solving our security issues militarily. To address conflict intelligently, we must identify the complex nature of the risks we face.

“This is what has rightly been called ‘smart power’ — the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. The United States possesses not only the most powerful armed forces in the world, but also, far more importantly, thanks to its ideals of liberty and justice, it possesses more smart power than any other country. And coming from where I do,” said the Prince, “the heart of the Middle East, I am aware of just how vital it is for our human coexistence that you reach out and use this smart power. That is what wins hearts and minds, and reminds the world what makes America great.”

Prince ibn Talal also commented that “difference and diversity are worth more than just our tolerance.” Citing Aldous Huxley who described nationalism as “a common misunderstanding of history and a common hatred for your neighbor,” the Prince said, “in an interdependent era we have to go beyond narrow ideas and build a partnership in humanity.” He noted that his friend, Professor Shimon Shamir of Tel Aviv University, talks not about a “grudging acceptance of the other, but of a genuine belief in his power to enrich our human existence. Interdependence means committing to live with each other, not despite each other.” Speaking specifically to Muslims and Jews, the Prince said that while it is crucial to work against “Semiticophobia, against Islamophobia, and all forms of intolerance, we must also see the need to work for something…”

There are people in Morocco who live as they have for centuries, in buildings made out of mud that is scooped up from the rivulets that give birth to the oases along which they live. Some years the water that sustains them comes in overwhelming quantities, reducing their homes back to the mud whence they came. The government of Morocco is slowly addressing this situation and other societal needs. What would happen if the United States expended some of its “smart power” about which Prince Hassan ibn Talal spoke at my son’s graduation? What if the United States helped to build some permanent housing for the mud-wall dwellers of Morocco? What if the United States spent $1 per second making friendly overtures to a whole host of nations that are in need and could use our expertise and experience? What if Israel did the same in Gaza and the West Bank? What if instead of destroying infrastructures Israel and the United States built them up? What if we lived up to some of the values mandated by Jewish tradition and offered peace to those who are not yet enemies and even those who are?

Leonard Cohen wrote an amazing midrash, an interpretation of this morning’s Torah portion about the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. In it, he gives voice to Isaac who, in the portion itself, says hardly anything. Leonard Cohen’s Isaac suffers from a unique form of post-traumatic stress disorder that gives him a one-of-a-kind perspective on the human condition. Part madman and part prophet, Isaac admonishes us, saying that we have no right to deem ourselves to be latter day-Abrahams.

Isaac says:

You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.

The Torah says that Abraham was “put to the test” when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. The test was not to see whether he would obey, but whether would disobey! He failed his test. Thus far, we have failed our test, as well. If Abraham was supposed to disobey the command of God, then it is our moral obligation to disobey flesh and blood leaders who keep telling us that the only way to peace is to keep sacrificing our children on the altar of war. “Bring it on!” It doesn’t make sense.

Beating swords into plowshares isn’t a metaphor. It’s industrial and philosophical retooling. Beating spears into pruning hooks isn’t a pipe dream. It’s applied technology that promotes peace. Moroccan Muslims in their homes made of mud watch American tourists driving by in air conditioned vans and they want a little bit of that for themselves and their children. They don’t want to terrorize us…yet.

© 2007 Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels