In forceful tones Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) replicated slogans that have become de rigueur among presidential hopefuls in campaigns past: “We must sell additional bunker busters to Israel. We should move our U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jerusalem will never be divided. Not one inch of Israel will be on the chopping block.”
Of course, that’s to be expected at the Zionist Organization of America’s dinner Nov. 20 at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and arch conservative commentator Glenn Beck (formerly of Fox News) also competed with pro-Israel sentiments.
As president Morton A. Klein pointed out, “We are an organization that’s proud to have Zionist prominently as its name.”
In private conversation with me, Bachmann, 55, an Evangelical Christian who calls herself “a lover of Israel,” mentioned how thrilled she was to spend the summer of 1974 as a volunteer in Israel after high school in Anoka, Minn. At the time she was Michele Amble, 18, one of 17 teenagers from the Twin Cities on a mission sponsored by Young Life, a Christian ministry.
I stayed in Kibbutz Beeri at Beersheba,” she said. “We’d get up at 4 in the morning, pick weeds in the cotton fields till noon, work in the kitchen, then pass out in the afternoon. It was one of the greatest times of my life.”
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, 59, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, insisted that Palestinian statehood is a threat to the state of Israel, along with a nuclear Iran. She applauded the Obama administration on its opposition to Unesco policy. “Money talks at the UN. Why should we send our money to reward bad practices?”
ZOA board member Harvey Friedman, described a visit to Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuban American and Hispanic elected to Congress. “I’m not here to ask for anything,” he said. “I just want to thank you. You have a Yiddishe neshama.”
The Congresswoman, an Episcopalian, asked her intern, an Orthodox Jew with payot, “Yankel, what’s a Yiddishe neshama?”
Yankel said it’s a great compliment, meaning “you have a Jewish soul.”
“I like that,” she replied.
Friedman told the dinner audience that Ros-Lehtinen’s maternal grandparents were Jews who came to Cuba from Turkey and founded the first Sephardic synagogue there.
Glenn Beck, 47, a Mormon who calls himself a proud Christian Zionist, said that on his visit to Israel this year he went to the Western Wall at two in the morning. He was amazed to see Jews there. “Name any place in the Christian world where they pray 24/7.”
On his trip to Auschwitz this summer he entered a room filled with prayer shawls. “It was profound darkness, yet people still worshiped God. “What does it take for a man in that position to not give up on God? The world does not hate you. The enemy of God hates you.”
In Poland Beck met with a righteous gentile who saved 500 Jews. He sat with her for an hour and held her hand. “We didn’t become righteous,” she said. “We just remained human.”
Morton Klein, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann at ZOA dinner. Photo by Tim Boxer