JERUSALEM (Reuters) - On the fringes of Jerusalem’s most volatile holy sites, conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck declared his support for Israel Wednesday at a rally showcasing fundamentalist Christian backing for the Jewish state.
Beck’s “Restoring Courage” event, in an archaeological park Israel has built in an area of Jerusalem it captured in a 1967 war, has stirred little interest among most Israelis, who are unfamiliar with the controversial right-wing commentator who is an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama.
But Beck’s visit to Israel, where he was accompanied by evangelical Christian preachers, has been followed with trepidation by American Jewish critics, Israeli left-wing activists and Arab legislators who cautioned that he could stoke tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
“In Israel you can find people who will stand against incredible odds, against the entire tide of global opinion, just because it’s right, just because it’s good and just because it’s true,” Beck told an adoring audience of some 1,700 that included leaders of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank as well as right-wing Israeli politicians.
Beck said the event, held in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, was beamed to more than 1,400 venues in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America where Christian supporters of Israel held viewing parties.
Israeli security was tight around the East Jerusalem site, described by Beck as “the throne of God,” adjacent to Judaism’s Western Wall and the sacred plaza known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary. No violence was reported.
A Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 after then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound, which houses Islam’s al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine and where two biblical Jewish temples once stood.
About 30 protesters from the anti-settler group Peace Now that was opposed to the rally held up placards nearby with signs reading “Go Beck Home,” among others.
Beck warned his audience with his powerful rhetoric of impending dangers around the world.
“The world needs courage more than ever before ... you don’t really have to be a prophet to know that things aren’t really going that well. The threats are mounting and evil is growing, darkness is falling. Far too many politicians are just too willing to look away,” he said.
Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, as the capital of a state they aspire to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005.
Arab legislators in the Israeli parliament have bristled at the visit of Beck, the former Fox News television host, who called on supporters “to courageously stand with Israel.”
One of the lawmakers, Ahmed Tibi, accused Beck of being “motivated by a hatred of Islam.” And Americans for Peace Now, a U.S.-based group that supports the Israeli movement, called Beck’s East Jerusalem rally an outrage.
“A real friend of Israel would seek to help Israel make peace. No friend of Israel would seek to sow greater enmity between Israelis and Palestinians,” Americans for Peace Now said on its website.
Beck has been highly critical of Obama’s policies toward Israel, accusing him of betraying Washington’s “last strong ally” by proposing that any future peace deal with the Palestinians be based on pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed territorial swaps.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has clashed publicly with Obama by describing those frontiers at indefensible in an address to a joint meeting of Congress in May, did not attend the Beck event.
But Netanyahu has hailed the “unwavering friendship” of the Jewish state’s evangelical Christian supporters. This month, he met 52 Republican and 26 Democratic legislators who visited Israel ahead of the 2012 election in a sign of the bipartisan backing the Jewish state enjoys in Congress.
Some Christian fundamentalists believe the ingathering of the Jewish people to the biblical Land of Israel is a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus and that the State of Israel is the fulfillment of prophetic scriptures.
Last year, Beck, a libertarian and a favorite of the Tea Party political movement, was a key speaker at a huge “Restoring Honor” public rally, a conservative show of strength, in Washington in the run-up to the 2012 presidential ballot.
But his scathing comments on topics ranging from global warming to political conspiracy theories have proved controversial.
In January several hundred rabbis called on Fox News, which has since dropped his television show over falling ratings, to sanction Beck for repeated use of Nazi and Holocaust imagery and for airing attacks on Holocaust survivor and financier George Soros.
Beck also has a syndicated radio show that reaches 10 million weekly listeners and is heard on more than 400 radio stations across the United States.
Alan Dershowitz, a pro-Israel advocate and a Harvard law school professor who successfully defended O.J. Simpson and other unpopular public figures, said in a blog this week that Beck’s willingness to stand up for Israel must be accepted with gratitude.
“I, for one, do not question his motives. I believe they are genuine. One need not accept all of Beck’s positions on Israel — and I certainly do not — in order to agree with him that support of Israel is one of the great moral issues of the 21st Century,” Dershowitz wrote.
Editing by Mark Heinrich