Shmuley Boteach recently wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post that looked like a plea for people to be understanding of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker's difficult position in regards to the Iran nuclear deal while simultaneously badgering him to reject the deal. Why is this so important? Boteach is a close personal friend of the Senator's and you can be sure the Senator will hear his voice loud and clear. I'd quote the part of the column where he describes how he developed his close personal friendship with Booker over the years, but then I'd have to quote half his column. If you haven't already read his column, DO IT NOW!
I'm going to examine some of Boteach's past writings and appearances to see if he is the type of fair, decent, clear thinking man that one would want whispering into the ear of a senator who could make or break the Iran deal. But first a few words about Senator Booker.
I think Senator Booker is both a very smart and a very decent man. I follow him on Twitter and his tweets are often thoughtful and inspiring. He has a way of appealing to the better aspects of human nature. Here are just a few of his tweets.
Give the respect u want to receive; embody the grace u hope to encounter; and help others with no expectations whatsoever.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 25, 2012
Remember that the biggest thing you could do today is a small act of kindness.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 14, 2012
When they cast you into darkness, LOVE them for helping you discover your inextinguishable light.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) September 15, 2012
"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough." -FDR
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 18, 2015
When Happy: Be Kind. When Angry: Be Kind. Whenever: Be Kind.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 18, 2015
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 30, 2015
Considering how close Boteach says he is to Senator Booker, one can only assume that Boteach is an honorable, decent, fair-minded guy--just like Senator Booker. He's just the type of guy we would want advising the good Senator. Right? Let's take a closer look at Rabbi Boteach.
Shmuley Boteach call's himself "America's Rabbi". I'm not sure what made him "America's Rabbi". Certainly, no one ever elected him to that position. In fact, there is no such thing as a "head Rabbi" for the United States. But he may be one of the most well-known and one of the most influential rabbis in the U.S. His credentials are impresssive, he's written numerous books, and he appears frequently in the national media. When he speaks he has a wide audience, and attention must be paid. So let's see what he's written or said about several people. Let's start off with his debate against J Street's President, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and use what we learn from this debate to evaluate his handling of two of Israel's critics - - President Jimmy Carter and British comedian Russell Brand. I will conclude with a quick look at what he had to say about National Security adviser Susan Rice.
Boteach Attacks Jeremy Ben-Ami
Watch this debate that occurred on January 30, 2015 between J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and Rabbi Boteach. (Alternate site for video here ). They are talking about how House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer had apparently tried to do an end run around the President by inviting Bibi Netanyahu to speak before Congress about nuclear negotiations with Iran. Normal diplomatic protocol dictates that such an invitation would be coordinated with the White House, but that did not happen. Instead, the President only learned about the invitation shortly before it became public. This particularly angered the President because he knew that Netanyahu was going to try to sabotage nuclear negotiations with Iran by insisting Congress pass harsh new sanctions. Pay close attention to how Boteach badgered Ben-Ami after Ben-Ami accused Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer of engaging in a cynical political ploy to promote Netanyahu in Israel's upcoming election while simultaneously kneecapping President Obama. (See 3:30-4:15 and 5:03-6:38.)
Substantively, Boteach was correct. Ron Dermer was not responsible for withholding news that Netanyahu was going to address Congress to try to get them to torpedo President Obama's initiative. The New York Times reported on January 28
The outrage the episode has incited within President Obama’s inner circle became clear in unusually sharp criticism by a senior administration official who said that the Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer, who helped orchestrate the invitation, had repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States . ..
In a telephone interview late Wednesday, Mr. Dermer said, “I have no regrets whatsoever that I have acted in a way to advance my country’s interests.” He said he never meant to slight the White House by keeping the confidence of the House speaker, who had suggested the invitation. He said he left it to Mr. Boehner to notify Mr. Obama’s team.
“My understanding was that it was the speaker’s prerogative to do, and that he would be the one to inform the administration,” Mr. Dermer said. “The prime minister feels very strongly that he has to speak on this issue. That’s why he accepted the invitation, not to wade into your political debate or make this a partisan issue, and not to be disrespectful to the president.” (emphasis added)
And in fact, on February 15, two weeks after the Ben-Ami/Boteach debate, Haaretz reported that it was Boehner who sandbagged the President, and not Dermer
House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that he had asked Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer not to inform the Obama administration about their contact over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Congress speech so as to avoid "interference."
"I wanted to make sure there is no interference," Boehner told Fox News' Sunday morning program. "There is no secret here about the animosity that this White House has for Netanyahu and I didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity,” Boehner continued.
Boehner's remarks contradict the earlier claim by him and his staff that he gave the White House sufficient warning about the Netanyahu invite – when in reality they updated the administration an hour before announcing it to the press. In other words, Boehner has admitted to keeping the White House in the dark about his contact with Dermer.
Despite the harsh criticism about the Netanyahu speech, scheduled for March 3, two weeks ahead of Israeli elections, Boehner said it is important for Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the Iranian nuclear threat.
However, should we be too harsh on Ben-Ami for getting his facts wrong? Did he maliciously make up these accusations to tar the Israeli Ambassador's reputation? Or is it possible that he was simply confused because he was relying on something that he had read? Ben-Ami was certainly not the first person to accuse Dermer of orchestrating Netanyahu's speech before Congress. Barak Ravid reported on January 22 in Haaretz that
A senior Israeli official with knowledge of the contacts, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said that the one who had initiated the contacts with Boehner and with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their staffs was Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's former aide.
Dermer, the senior official said, had advanced the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress in talks he has been having for several weeks on Iran's nuclear program with senior members of Congress. Dermer is encouraging senators and representatives to advance new legislation that would impose additional sanctions on Iran, contrary to the position of the White House, which believes that new sanctions at this time would undermine the talks and kill the chances of reaching a diplomatic solution. During his State of the Union Address Tuesday night Obama made it clear that he would veto any such legislation.
According to the senior official, Dermer approached Boehner, McConnell and other senior Republican Party figures at Netanyahu’s behest and suggested the idea of the speech. “Dermer and Boehner cooked up this whole invitation to Congress,” the official said. (emphasis added)
Dermer, a former Republican operative and a confidant of both Netanyahu and billionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, had apparently proposed the idea of the speech to Republican leaders as early as Jan. 8. An agreement was reached for Boehner to extend the invitation days before the State of the Union — without any notice given to the White House or the State Department. (emphasis added)
In a plan concocted by Ron Dermer, who serves as Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S., the speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to address Congress on the dangers of a nuclear deal and the need for tougher sanctions, without first informing the White House.. (emphasis added)
So it appears Ben-Ami was remembering what was already in the news. Perhaps he had not read the New York Times account of January 28, or perhaps he had read it and either skimmed over the part where Dermer said he thought it was Boehner's prerogative to inform the President. Or perhaps he had read it but it didn't sink in as a significant detail worth remembering. In any case, Ben-Ami's confusion is understandable. His original claim does not appear to have arisen from malice towards the Israeli Ambassador.
Now, pay attention to the exchange between Boteach and Ben-Ami in the video starting at 6:27.
Boteach: I know its painful being caught red-handed with a misrepresentation, but a gentleman would say "I'm sorry."
Ben-Ami: So I am sorry if I did misstate that
Boteach: Thank you.
So Ben-Ami apologized and Boteach appeared to have accepted the apology. And he posted a big to-do about Ben-Ami's apology on his website. End of incident. Right? Well not exactly.
Ben-Ami claimed that Boteach's bullying didn't end with his apology to Dermer. Ben-Ami wrote on February 3 :
Mr. Boteach has taken to social media to lambaste me in the most personal of terms. His tweets, Facebook posts and other writings seem to revel in casting my willingness to apologize as a weakness and a personal flaw.
No question, his is behavior I am used to from partisan operatives. After all, I've spent thirty years in politics. And, believe me, after seven years running J Street, I've got a thick skin and can give as good as I get.
Certainly, the way that Mr. Boteach has jumped on my willingness to say "I'm sorry" is political gamesmanship at its finest - and I accept that from a partisan political hatchet-man.
I find it far harder to accept such behavior from someone who self-identifies primarily as a spiritual leader of the Jewish community.
Was Ben-Ami accurate in his characterization of Boteach's writing? I think he was, but you really should read what Boteach wrote and decide for yourself. I'd quote the most significant portion of Boteach's February 2 interpretation of his debate with Ben-Ami, but I'd really have to copy and paste the entire piece in order to do it justice. It's short, so GO AND READ IT. More importantly, keep Boteach's apparent demand that one must have absolute proof before accusing Israel's ambassador of cynical political manipulation in mind when you read what Boteach wrote about two of Israel's critics--Jimmy Carter and Russell Brand. Also keep in mind that Ben-Ami was talking off the top of his head in an interview, whereas Boteach could take all the time that he wanted to fact check and create carefully nuanced articles before publishing his attacks on Carter and Brand. Boteach had the time and the internet available to ensure that every claim he made was scrupulously fair and accurate. Ben-Ami did not have these luxuries in his spontaineous on-air debate.
Boteach Attacks President Jimmy Carter
Boteach launched a wide-scale attack about a year ago against Jimmy Carter's presidency in general and his foreign policy in particular. He was willing to chalk up most of Carter's errors to incompetency or a naive desire to see the underdog win, regardless of how immoral the underdog was. Boteach was particularly outraged by Carter's claim that Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank was worse than apartheid South Africa. For years he had attributed this claim to Carter's "faulty moral compass", but now he attributed it to "some nasty feelings toward the Jewish State." He didn't call Carter an anti-Semite directly, but the implication was so strong that you should take remedial reading if you missed it.
Mr. Carter said in 2006 that Israel’s policies in the West Bank were actually worse than apartheid South Africa. He followed this disgusting libel with his infamous 2009 book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” in which he claimed that due to “powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the U.S., Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate our media.” We’re skirting awfully close to a protocols-of-Zion style argument here, that the Jews control the media and American foreign policy.
Whether Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank is worse than apartheid in South Africa is certainly debatable. But what is is not debatable is that there are similarities. South African Nobel Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu saw the similarities. The South African ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, did not directly accuse Israel of apartheid, but he said its policies in the West Bank reminded him of apartheid. And this is what former Shin Bet leader Avraham Shalom had to say in The Gatekeepers:
The future is bleak. It's dark, the future. Where does it lead? To a change in the people's character because if you put most of our young people in the army, they'll see a paradox. They'll see it strives to be a people's army, like the Nahal unit, involved in building up the country. On the other hand, it's a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical. And I'm not talking about their behavior toward the Jews. That was exceptional, with its own particular characteristics. I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch. . . To all of them... The Czechs. It's a very negative trait that we acquired, to be... I'm afraid to say it, so I won't. We've become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror.
And just a few days ago Bradley Burston, Senior Analyst for Haaretz.com wrote a column entitled It's Time to Admit It. Israeli Policy Is What It Is: Apartheid,
Though there is room to debate whether Israel's policies in the West Bank are as bad or worse then apartheid, there is no room for debate when it comes to Boteach's other major claim. Boteach is flat out wrong. Carter did not write "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy". That book was written by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. Those who are interested in reading what Mearsheimer and Walt had to say can order the book on Amazon or read the 2006 paper on which it was based. Carter was asked in 2006 what he thought of Mearsheimer and Walt's paper. Carter acknowledged the book was controversial, said that AIPAC had a powerful influence in Washington, and said that AIPAC had the right to express its views. Watch Carter's response--it is far from a protocols-of-Zion style argument.
Boteach continued his attack against Carter:
Perhaps the clincher is Mr. Carter’s pronouncement that “the key factor that prevents peace is the continuing building of Israeli settlements in Palestine, driven by a determined minority of Israelis who desire to occupy and colonize east Jerusalem and the West Bank.” According to Carter, Palestinian terrorism, Iranian nukes, tyrannical Arab governments, and murderous Islamist religious militancy are not the causes for Middle East conflict. No, it’s the Jews.
Boteach provided us with a list of things that he wanted President Carter to focus on instead of Israel. Yes, there are tyrannical Arab governments, but they have offered various versions of a peace initiative that Israel has ignored since 2002 . Egypt's current government is more, tyrannical than the previous government under President Morsi, yet Israel and its backers want us to continue sending aid to Egypt because it is hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and its cousin, Hamas.
And Iranian nukes don't exist. Iranian politicians swear up and down that developing nuclear weapons would be unIslamic, and Iran has rendered all of its highly enriched uranium into more harmless forms as required under the interim nuclear deal. Iran COULD develop nuclear weapons if the Iran nuclear deal falls through, but the fact that Boteach hyped Iranian nukes as an already existing threat indicates he was more interested in distracting us from examining Israel's behavior than he was in providing an accurate assessment of dangers in the Middle East.
Certainly two of the three biggest factors that prevent peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians are the expansion of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the aggressive price tag terrorism by its radical Jewish settlers. You don't have to believe me when I say that the settlements in the West Bank are illegal. All you have to do is pay close attention to what ISRAEL'S OWN LEGAL COUNCIL, Theodor Meron, said in 1967. When asked to prepare an opinion on the legality of settling in the "administered territories" he concluded that doing so "contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
The third major factor preventing peace between Israel and the Palestinians is indeed Hamas and its Charter which calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. Though Hamas has never repudiated its charter, it has shown signs of internal division and the potential to modify or change its Charter under the right conditions.
Seth Ackerman wrote a report for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting roughly eight months after Hamas won the January 2006 election. Ackerman's report examined the signals that Hamas was sending that, had Israel and the United States taken a different approach, might have led to a change in their Charter. Here are a few highlights from this essential reading.
analysts also saw the potential for far-reaching change in Hamas’ political outlook. As early as 2000, a study by Israel’s leading academic specialists on Hamas (Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas) cautioned that the Islamist group, despite its fanatical image, 'is not a prisoner of its own dogmas. It does not shut itself behind absolute truths, nor does it subordinate its activities and decisions to the officially held religious doctrine.'" . . .
"Yet as Mishal and Sela observed, the group possessed a deft “ability to justify controversial political conduct in religious terms” and a “willingness to exist with internal contradiction.” The scholars’ conclusion: “We cannot rule out the possibility of a significant shift in Hamas’ relations with Israel to the point that what seems ideologically heretical in the present might become inevitable in the future.” . . .
More importantly, the group had begun to signal that it was ready to adjust its political position on the conflict with Israel. “Slowly, painstakingly, but inexorably, Hamas is moving away from its traditional notion that Palestine is an Islamic waqf [land-in-trust] ‘from the river to the sea,’” observed the Economist’s veteran Palestine correspondent, Graham Usher (Middle East Report Online, 8/21/05). The party had not simply reverted to a strategy of “a long-term armistice (hudna) that would accept the ‘1967 Territories’ as a Palestinian proto-state until the forces of Islam are strong enough to recover Palestine ‘as a whole.’” Rather, Usher reported, “Hamas is signaling that it accepts Israel as a political reality today and is intimating that it would accept a final agreement with Israel ‘according to the parameters of the  Madrid conference and U.N. resolutions,’ says Palestinian analyst Khaled Hroub, an authority on the Islamist party.”
Just before the election, Robert Malley, the former Middle East policy director in the Clinton National Security Council, organized a report for the International Crisis Group (Enter Hamas: The Challenges of Political Integration, ICG, 1/18/06) that reviewed the “signs of pragmatism” coming from Hamas. Based on dozens of interviews in the field with officials from Hamas, Israel and elsewhere, the report observed that, “far more than Fatah, Hamas has proved a disciplined adherent to the cease-fire, and Israeli military officers readily credit this for the sharp decline in violence. In recent statements, Hamas leaders have not ruled out changing their movement’s charter, negotiating with Israel or accepting a long-term truce on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines.” Underlining the depth of Hamas’ ideological shift since its charter was adopted in 1988, the paper judged that “today, their electoral platform is in these respects closer to Fatah’s outlook than to Hamas’ founding principles.”
Perhaps the single most knowledgeable observer of Hamas in the West is Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who served as liaison to the Palestinian National Authority for the European Union from 1997 to 2003 and worked closely with CIA director George Tenet. In a private policy paper distributed to E.U. officials at the time of the January elections (cited in UPI, 2/2/06), Crooke wrote that Hamas’ growing willingness to support a comprehensive halt to violence and negotiations with Israel leading to two states represented an unprecedented opportunity for peace, since, unlike during the Oslo years, “the results of such talks would actually be implemented by a disciplined movement with a mandate from its own people”—i.e., Hamas. Such a deal “offers the best chance for an enduring settlement” with Israel, Crooke judged. . . .
There is no need to sugarcoat Hamas’ history of brutal tactics or its bellicose ideology. Its activists continue to rouse their supporters with messianic rhetoric pledging to pursue the battle against Israel until total victory is reached, and in its armed attacks across the Green Line the group has seldom made the slightest effort to distinguish innocent civilians from soldiers. But the characterizations of Hamas’ stance toward Israel quoted above range from incomplete to misleading to flatly wrong.
Hamas’ leaders are not of a single mind. They include both fiery radicals who dismiss any suggestion of co-existence with Israel and moderates whose views differ little from those of Abbas, a Fatah leader who is considered a moderate. But over the months and years preceding January’s elections, the center of gravity within the group’s thinking had unmistakably shifted. Senior officials repeatedly signaled that Hamas is open to changing its policy in favor of a long-term peaceful accommodation with Israel; that it is willing to take concrete steps toward this goal, provided that Israel reciprocates; and that it would seriously consider moving even further given the right political circumstances. . . .
Yet in almost every case, the U.S. media failed to broadcast these signals. For instance, four months before the elections, a moderate Hamas candidate representing Nablus, Mohammed Ghazal, told Reuters (9/21/05) that the group could change its 1988 charter calling for Israel’s destruction and that it was open to negotiating with Israel. “The charter is not the Koran,” Ghazal said. “Historically, we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we’re talking now about reality, about political solutions. . . . The realities are different.” If Israel reached a stage where it felt able to talk to Hamas, Ghazal said, “I don’t think there will be a problem of negotiating with the Israelis.” (Less than a week after Ghazal’s comments, Israeli soldiers raided his apartment and arrested him—AP, 9/27/05.)
Asked about the charter the following month, a leading Hamas hardliner, Mahmoud Zahar, told Ha’aretz (10/26/05) that “no one is thinking now about changing the charter, but in principle it is not impossible.” . . .
By spring 2006, it seemed clear that the group was open to almost any solution that did not cross the red line of recognition of Israel by Hamas as a political party. As one Hamas leader (Hamas MP Riad Mustafa, ICG report, 6/06; emphasis added) explained:
I say unambiguously: Hamas does not and never will recognize Israel. Recognition is an act conferred by states, not movements or governments, and Palestine is not a state. Nevertheless, the government’s program calls for the end of the occupation, not the destruction of Israel, and Hamas has proposed ending the occupation and a long-term truce (hudna) to bring peace to this region. That is Hamas’ own position. The government has also recognized President Abbas’ right to conduct political negotiations with Israel. If he were to produce a peace agreement, and if this agreement was endorsed by our national institutions and a popular referendum, then—even if it includes Palestinian recognition of Israel— we would of course accept their verdict. Because respecting the will of the people and their democratic choice is also one of our principles.'"
That was written 2006. In 2014 Nathan Thrall wrote an important piece for the London Review of Books that showed that it was Israel that was primarily responsible for breaking the 2012 truce agreement with Hamas and not the other way around.
The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air – including the ‘targeting of individuals’ (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) – and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel’s ‘opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas’. An additional clause noted that ‘other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,’ a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.
During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the quiet on Gaza’s border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza’s waters.
The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones – agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn’t enter without being fired on – were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.
Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the deal, then because Netanyahu couldn’t afford to make further concessions to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honour it.
Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel’s satisfaction. It set up a new police force tasked with arresting Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In 2013, fewer were fired from Gaza than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive projectiles were shot across the border. Hamas needed time to rebuild its arsenal, fortify its defences and prepare for the next battle, when it would again seek an end to Gaza’s closure by force of arms. But it also hoped that Egypt would open itself to Gaza, thereby ending the years during which Egypt and Israel had tried to dump responsibility for the territory and its impoverished inhabitants on each other and making less important an easing of the closure by Israel."
Anyone doubting that Hamas had GREATLY reduced the number of rockets being fired into Israel after its 2012 truce agreement need only look at this chart of rocket launches from Gaza between September 2004 and May 2014
Or they can read this account of a Gazan teenager who ran off to join ISIS because Hamas refused to allow him to fire his rocket into Israel.
Of course, Hamas DID fire rockets into Israel on June 30, 2014, but this was after a series of events that sprialed out of control. Discussing the causes of the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas requires some subtlety and is well beyond the scope of this column. Suffice it to say that both sides are partially at fault, and laying all the blame on Hamas is as big a hatchet job as accusing President Carter of "skirting awfully close to a protocols-of-Zion style argument."
So now we know Boteach's critique of President Carter was a hatchet job--a hatchet job which he should apologize for.
Boteach Attacks Russell Brand
I now want to look at Boteach's attack last year against comedian Russell Brand's call for a limited boycott of companies that aid Israel's occupation of the West Bank. I am not going to go into the merits of Boteach's argument. I certainly could debate many of the points he raised, but thoroughly debating him would take more time than I care to spend and it would make an already long article excessively long. Instead of focusing on WHAT Boteach said, I want you to focus on HOW he said it.
Boteach's attack arose in response to Brand's mocking Sean Hannity for refusing to let his guest, Palestinian director of the Jerusalem Fund, Yousef Munayyer, get a word in edgewise on his show. You can watch the exchanges between Hannity and Munayyer and between Brand and Hannity here.
Boteach responded by going on the warpath against Brand on August 18, 2014 because, according to Boteach, Brand "has joined the league of those demanding a boycott of Israel". It is easy to understand why Boteach believed that this was Brand's position after watching the following video from August 13.
Perhaps Boteach didn't watch a followup video that Brand made two days before Boteach's column was published. In that video Brand expressly stated that he wasn't calling for a boycott of Israel. Instead, he wanted to aggravate companies like Barclays that benefit financially from Israel's actions in Gaza. (pay attention to 1:54-3:15)
Brand further clarified his position two days after Boteach's column
The petition against European businesses provides exactly that opportunity. This is clearly distinct from a boycott against Israel, which means abstaining from buying goods from Israel.
The obvious reason that this distinction is important is if we are to boycott all nations that practice unsanctioned violence against a weaker opponent we would begin with the UK and USA and include every nation on earth. That is, I suppose, why Avaaz's petition is appropriate and effective; no boycott against any nation was proposed. Instead a petition against businesses that profit from the horror in Gaza was set up and now has nearly 1.7 million signatures.
But let's ignore the difference between what Boteach says Brand's position was and what Brand's position actually was. Let's pretend that Boteach portrayed Brand's position accurately and that Brand really did advocate a boycott of Israel. Did Boteach debate Brand in a calm, mature and respectful manner?
Boteach started his attack by saying "I'm going to go soft on him because of all the personal problem's he's had. . ." He then continued by listing Brand's personal problems:
with multiple addictions, 12 arrests for drug possession, rehab for sexual compulsion, and two arrests for attacking paparazzi taking pictures of him.
A moral beacon he isn’t. A light unto the nations? Fugggetaboutit. And I commend Russell for making no pretensions to being anything other than what he is. A comical, messed up, confused clown. There is something redemptive about his honesty that ought to be commended. Russell Brand belongs to a new, self-declared showbiz genre: the celebrity as moral idiot. And if he has such low expectations for himself, why should we make the mistake of elevating Mr. Brand and his fellow ethical imbeciles by taking him seriously?
But while he makes no pretensions to being an intellectual, there is one thing that Russell does want us to believe: that he is a sensitive humanitarian who cannot sit silently while innocent people suffer. Yes, he may have SMS’d ex-wife Katy Perry that he’s divorcing her and then never spoke to her again, but that was an anomaly. Most of the time Russell is a bleeding-heart do-gooder. . . .
One gets the feeling that Russell’s extreme honesty about his drug addiction, being taken by his father as a teenager to prostitutes, and masturbating a complete stranger in a toilet for research is not so much courageous revelation as it is the muddled ramblings of a severely damaged man.
Thus Boteach started his column saying he would go easy on Brand, and then launched into a mean-spirited and gratuitous attack that had nothing to do with Brand's opinion of Israel. The above quoted ad hominem attack took 230 words out of an 804 word essay. I don't know if what Boteach wrote about Brand was accurate or if it was a bunch of gossip he got out of the tabloids. If it was as accurate as his claim that Jimmy Carter wrote "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" then not a word of it was true. But whether it was accurate or not shouldn't even be part of the discussion of Brand's opinion about Israel. It was totally irrelevant. The only thing Boteach's nasty attack after his promise to go easy on Brand proved was that Boteach fights dirty when it comes to Israel.
Boteach Attacks Susan Rice
National Security adviser Susan Rice spoke last February about Netanyahu's upcoming speech to Congress. She said that the speech introduced a degree of partisanship "which is not only unfortunate…it's destructive of the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the U.S.
Rabbi Boteach responded by purchasing an add accusing Rice of having a "blind spot [toward] genocide".
Boteach's ad was seen as such a low and inappropriate blow that it was condemned in the harshest possible terms by AIPAC, The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defimation League, the Jewish Federations of America, and the Israel Project. Leaders of these groups called the ad "revolting", 'outrageous" and "spurious and perverse", Marshall Wittman, the spokesman for AIPAC said "Ad hominem attacks should have no place in our discourse." Even Bibi Netanyahu's office has condemned the ad.
I applaud these leaders for their accurate assessment of Boteach's attack on Susan Rice. I would go one step further and note that this vicious attack was not an anomaly. It is Rabbi Boteach's modus operandi. If Rabbi Boteach wants to continue his role as a snarling, rabid attack dog then there is nothing I can do to stop him. But he should stop calling himself "America's Rabbi" if he wants to avoid making American Jews look bad. And if Senator Booker still wants to pay close attention to what Boteach has to say, despite their radically different styles, then he should at least give an equal hearing to the many experts who support the Iran deal. He should also consider the possibility that rejecting the deal could unintentionally enable ISIS to purchase a nuclear weapon, as I explained in my open letter to Senator Schumer. As far as I know, Boteach has not considered this possibility in his analysis of the Iran deal.