Say whatever you want about Glenn Beck but anyone who claims he doesn’t love Israel is lying. The talk show host is back in the Jewish state this week to stage a “Restore Courage” rally to support the country. At a time when Israel remains the focus of an international diplomatic campaign aimed at isolating and delegitimizing it, the former Fox News personality deserves a great deal of credit for being willing to put himself on the line in this way.
Yet, predictably, Beck has gotten himself in trouble almost as soon as he arrived by saying that demands of Israelis who took part in massive economic protests reminded him of the Soviet Union. Beck will, no doubt, be criticized for implicitly calling Israelis “communists,” as Haaretz put it. But even though Beck certainly oversimplified some aspects of the protests and clearly doesn’t understand why they resonate with most Israelis, he is not entirely wrong.
Any discussion of these protests must begin by stating the reason why most Israelis are sympathetic to the demonstrations: the price of housing and food is sky high and the middle class is being squeezed even in an economy that is on the upswing. Complaints about an inequitable distribution of wealth strike many Americans, including Beck, as mere left-wing rhetoric. But when Israelis speak of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few families they are, for the most part, not calling for socialism. Rather, they are noting the fact that during the sell off of state properties when free market reform in Israel began during the Rabin and Peres governments, a few individuals were able to snatch up bargains that enriched them in a manner that better resembles what happened in Russia in the early 1990s than anything out of a Milton Friedman economics text.
These are things that Beck needs to take into account before he opens his mouth on the subject.
That said, those who roast him for his remarks on the subject need to understand that some of the rhetoric coming out of the protests does emanate from a foolish nostalgia for Israel’s socialist past. For all of its current problems, Israel wasn’t a better country when there was little wealth creation allowed and a corrupt system made it impossible for citizens to get decent services. The country needs more free market reform, not less and Beck is right to point that out.
It should also be noted that the effort by some on the left to hijack the protests and to link them with a campaign against the settlements is an absurd red herring. Though Beck’s call for more building in the West Bank in order to ease the housing crunch is never going to happen, what many Americans who sympathize with the Israeli left have to understand is that this problem will be made incomparably worse if settlements where tens of thousands of Jews live are destroyed to please the Palestinians.
Beck has blundered badly at times when speaking about Jewish subjects. But the worst that he can be accused of here is indulging in a bit of hyperbole on a subject on which Israelis disagree. Considering that he is in the country on a solidarity mission, anyone inclined to bash him over this should cut him some slack.