Perhaps it was only a matter of time before conservative American commentator Glenn Beck, viewed by many supporters as a modern-day prophet, brought his messianic message to Jerusalem. But even in an ancient city that has seen its share of religious enthusiasts, Beck's high-profile Holy Land tour this week, culminating Wednesday in a rally just a stone's throw from the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock mosque, is raising eyebrows.
Before his arrival, most Israelis were unfamiliar with the former Fox News host, whose cable TV show went off the air in June amid sagging ratings. But his rally has triggered a debate over whether Beck should be embraced as a friend of Israel or condemned as a fanatic who has battled allegations of anti-Semitism.
The visit is focusing renewed attention on the growing, and some say unlikely, alliance between right-wing Israelis and Christian fundamentalists in the United States.
Beck is calling his Jerusalem rally "Restoring Courage," playing off of his "Restoring Honor" event in Washington last summer. The purpose, he has said, is to demonstrate American solidarity with Israel. Hundreds of Christian supporters, many from the United States, are expected to attend. Beck's staunch support for Israeli control over Jerusalem and his criticism of Palestinians' ambitions to create their own state have won him praise from many conservative Israeli leaders.
"He is a friend who supports Israel, and we should work with him," said Danny Danon, an outspoken member of the Likud Party who advocates the annexation of the West Bank to Israel.
But critics say Beck's track record of controversial statements makes him an inappropriate ally. Last month, he likened Norwegian youths gunned down at a political camp by an anti-Islamic extremist to "Hitler Youth." Twice in the last year, Beck has been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for "bigoted" and "horrific" comments on his show, one likening Reform Judaism to "radicalized Islam" and another in which he said Holocaust survivor and billionaire George Soros betrayed fellow Jews to Nazis.
Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi warned that Beck's tour could provoke violence, calling him "a neo-fascist comedian who is motivated by a hatred of Islam."
Beck's visit reflects the partnership between conservative Israelis and some American Christian groups. So-called Christian Zionist groups and evangelical churches, such as Texas-based John Hagee Ministries, donate millions of dollars to help fund settlement construction in the West Bank and support Israel.
The support comes, in part, from a belief among some Christian fundamentalists that a return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem are signs of the second coming. Beck, who converted to the Mormon faith in 1999, frequently discusses such end-of-the-world prophecies and biblical themes on his program.