NEW YORK (JTA) —Â Glenn Beck said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.”
The Fox News host made the comments on his radio program Tuesday in the context of a wider discussion about a recent open letter, signed almost exclusively by non-Orthodox rabbis, criticizing him for repeatedly comparing his ideological foes to Nazis.
“There are the Orthodox rabbis and there are the Reform rabbis,” Beck said. “Reformed [sic] rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like radicalized Islam in a way where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics.”
In a brief aside, Beck said that he wasn’t saying Reform Judaism and radical Islam were the same. He went on to note that for Orthodox rabbis faith is primary, before reiterating that Reform rabbis place politics before religion.
Reform movement leaders were nevertheless outraged by the comparison. Rabbi David Saperstein, the head of the movement’s Washington office, the Religious Action Center, told JTA the comments were “distasteful and offensive.”
“His description of the Reform movement ignores the fact that we’re the largest segment of American Jewry,” Saperstein said. “It has been over the last 30 years the fastest growing liberal theological denomination in America. And that is true because of the richness of the religious, spiritual and faith fulfillment it offers a very diverse constituency that defines our movement. For him to denigrate, not just all the Reform rabbis, Reform Judaism, but the million and half members of our synagogues is deeply distasteful and offensive.”
The flare-up is the latest involving Beck and the Jewish community. The talk show host, whose television ratings were down 39 percent last month, compared to January 2010, has come under fire for repeatedly comparing liberals to Hitler and the Nazis. He has also attacked Soros, a billionaire supporter of liberal causes and a Holocaust survivor, implying he was a Nazi collaborator, and flirting with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes in describing what he alleges are Soros’ shadowy efforts to bring down the United States government.
In January, Jewish Funds for Justice took out two full-page advertisements in national newspapers slamming Beck. The ads took the form of an open letter to Rupert Murdoch, the head of Fox’s parent company News Corporation, calling for Beck to be censured.
The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish organization normally in the lead on issues of anti-Semitism and the use of Nazi imagery, criticized the timing of the ad and its singling out of political conservatives. But ADL chief Abraham Foxman was quick to denounce Beck’s latest comments and demand an apology.
“To compare Reform Judaism, which supports democratic institutions, to Islamic extremism, which supports anti-democratic movements and the repression of basic rights – including, for example, the denial of women’s rights – is beyond the pale,” Foxman said. “Glenn Beck has no right to discount the faith of any people, and he should think twice before commenting on something he doesn’t know much about. He owes the Reform movement an apology.”
Beck apologizes, sort of
Glenn Beck responded to the blowback from his benighted comments denigrating Reform rabbis.
Beck began his Thursday radio show by saying, “I made a mistake on Tuesday and I want to make sure you understand I was wrong on it and I apologize on it.”
Referring to the comments, Beck said “someone called me ‘ignorant’ for it and it’s a good description of what I said. I started comparing Judaism to Islamic extremism and it was stupid.” He added that he “didn’t do enough homework” on the topic.
The Jewish Funds for Justice responded to Beck’s apology by saying it was “welcome but incomplete,” and they called on Rupert Murdoch to end Beck’s tenure at Fox News.
Lawrence O’Donnell, host of The Last Word on MSNBC, parsed Beck’s apology on his Thursday night show.Â O’Donnell noted that Beck’sÂ “apology” Â was directed to Anti-Defamation League headÂ Abe Foxman, rather than to the Reform rabbis and Reform Jews who he offended.
Here’s the segment from The Last Word: