NEW YORK (JTA) — Fox News host Glenn Beck said Reform rabbis are “almost like radicalized Islam.”
Beck 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 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 an 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 outraged by the comparison. Rabbi David Saperstein, the head of the movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, 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 George Soros, a Jewish billionaire supporter of liberal causes and a Holocaust survivor, implying he was a Nazi collaborator and describing what he alleges are Soros’ shadowy efforts to bring down the U.S. 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 national director 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.”