Never Forget: Iran is the Problem, not Boteach
by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein Jewish Journal of LA
In a Jewish world desperate for unity, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach succeeded in uniting a broad array of Jewish groups, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, secular and religious, right leaning, and left leaning, centrist and apolitical — to condemn his full-page ad attack against National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the New York Times.
If only that unity could be channeled into publicizing the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to America and the world, perhaps the US Administration would truly recognize the danger that a nuclear armed Iran would be, and reject any deal that would leave Iran within reach of the bomb.
Boteach’s tactics are reminiscent of Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) and his supporters who tried to move the United States to protect the Jews of Europe being slaughtered by Germany during WWII by allowing increased immigration of European Jews into America. Bergson’s group ran shocking full page ads in the Times and other newspapers as part of their campaign to tell the world of the destruction of European Jewry.
Boteach knew that his attack on Rice would be controversial. The establishment’s denunciation only proves to Boteach and his supporters — and he counts the outspoken Sheldon Adelson among them — that American Jewish leadership is incapable of articulating a unified position on Iran.
Details of the Iran deal, currently being worked on in secret by America and Iran, have been leaked across the media for days. By all accounts it allows for Iran to maintain a serious nuclear program.
Yet news that Iran will be on the path from being a pariah state, to a legitimized nuclear power, has not galvanized major American Jewish organizations to protests, mass petition campaigns or to even to take out ads in the Times.
Rather, American Jewish groups are distracted, busy fighting a very public battle over whether Bibi’s speech to congress this week is good or bad for Israel and the Jews.
Boteach, many American Jewish leaders, and the Christian Zionist lobby, believe Bibi’s speech to the US Congress can help to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons and make the case for strengthening America’s resolve against Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
He is not alone. Even the Obama Administration, wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, is afraid that Bibi’s speech to congress could scuttle a deal with Iran.
We can look into the historical record to see who stood against Peter Bergson’s tactics to bring the plight of European Jewry to the pages of the NY Times and in public demonstrations in Washington. We can see their publicly stated positions aimed at defusing any hint the American Jews might be accused of disloyalty to America in favor of foreign Jews.
According to recent scholarship, prominent Jewish organizations tried to have Bergson deported and had the IRS audit his group to try to find irregularities. Likewise nearly every mainstream Jewish organization, including the greatest Zionist leaders tried to discredit Bergson.
In addition to Bergson’s ad campaign, and renting Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and other massive venues for a show he produced called “We Will Not Die”, he organized a March of Rabbis on Washington.
Bergson and the March of 500 Orthodox rabbis on October 6, 1943 did not succeed in meeting President Roosevelt, or in being heard in congress. Instead, the Jewish establishment blocked them any way possible worried that these Jews would increase American anti-Semitism.
When asked about his tactics, Bergson said in 1973, “Why did we respond the way we did? The question should be, why didn’t the others? We responded as a human and as a Jew should.”
Bergson’s March, which included Jewish War Veterans, met the Vice President and a few members of congress. Their pressure helped rescue of some 200,000 mostly Hungarian Jews through changes in the policies of the War Refugee Board.
We see today that those who condemn Boteach’s NY Times advertisement and demand he publically apologize, seem to be echoing the concern Jews have always felt when we have achieved a high level of acceptance within any nation – we are worried that to press for protecting World Jewry, and Israel in particular, makes us vulnerable to the anti-Semites’ claim that Jews are a fifth-column or have dual loyalties.
This fear is burned into our collective memory as a foundational fact of our national story. From the time recorded in the Bible when Pharaoh’s advisors feared that the Israelites would join with some potential invading force and overthrow Egypt, to today’s Zionist conspiracies, our enemies have accused us of treachery. This fear of being accused of disloyalty runs deep in our national psyche.
While Boteach’s tactics — a personal attack on a prominent politician — are very controversial and offensive to most, it’s because Boteach believes the stakes are very high.
The Jewish Establishment has proven the point that Boteach has set out to prove — that there is no unified voice on how to combat a mortal enemy of the Jewish people, but only on trying to make the Jewish community not seem ungrateful for everything that Susan Rice and the US Administration have done for Israel.
As in Bergson’s day, it appears to some Jews in America who have taken to Boteach’s defense, that the Jewish Establishment is more concerned about losing its good access to the White House than the threat of Iran with the Bomb.
If history can be any kind of teacher, then the lesson must be: If Iran is allowed to build a nuclear weapon, to regain its standing it the world and lose its pariah status, it doesn’t matter how many good deeds Susan Rice and the President have done for Israel. They will have given Israel’s mortal enemy the ability to slaughter Jews by the millions.
One cannot help but take note of the state of affairs in American Jewish life when the Jewish Establishment agrees to roundly condemn a fellow Jew. The unified criticism aimed at one well-known Jewish American is unprecedented in recent times. Public and strident Jewish critics of Israel, whose names are respected, and whose current criticisms are simple reiterations of poisonous anti-Zionist rhetoric, have never received such treatment. The danger of their Jewish attack on Israel’s right to exist does not seem to galvanize anyone, let alone the diverse groups now condemning Boteach.
Boteach has been aiming to be a player in politics since he started at Oxford. Kosher Sex was never his end game. He won’t leave the issue of bilateral Israeli American relations to others, because he and his backers believe their voices need to be heard at the table. While Boteach had a following before, thanks to this avalanche of derision, Boteach now has a bigger platform. He can summon a NY Times ad with a few phone calls. He has a larger social media imprint than all the major Jewish organizations that condemned him — combined.
Boteach is the son of an Iranian Jew. He knows what happened to his family and the other Jews of Iran when the Islamists came to power in 1979, and he as well as every other Iranian Jew, distrust Iran more thoroughly than any other segment of our community.
Boteach is not a unifying figure. That is not his operating guideline. Neither was Bergson. Boteach is out to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and he’ll use all his political capital, connections, as well as the negative attention he can get to bring the issue into the public sphere.
Instead of turning on Boteach, the Jewish establishment needs to turn on Iran, publically, verbally, unashamedly, without fear of an anti-Semitic backlash.
Remember, never forget, it is Iran that has been supplying weapons, money, and training to Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy war on Israel for decades.
Remember, never forget, it is Iran that is responsible for the deaths of more Americans that ISIS by many fold.
Remember, never forget, it is Iran that blew-up the Jewish community building in Argentina.
Remember, never forget, it is Iran who has consistently lied to the world about its nuclear ambitions and hidden major parts of its nuclear program deep underground.
Remember, never forget, that it is Iran that has called for the repeated destruction of Israel.
As we approach Purim, a Jewish holiday which commemorates our salvation from a Persian plan to destroy our people which was already set into motion, the world’s superpowers sit across the negotiating table from a murderous Iranian regime sworn to destroy Israel, and who have killed hundreds of Jews and Americans around the world.
Our sages created Purim to remember – and to never forget – that to ensure our survival as a people, it will take a unified community and holy chutzpah. Esther risked everything for her people.
Boteach has unwittingly unleashed some Jewish unity using some serious chutzpah. Can the American Jewish establishment use that to launch a major campaign against Iran reminiscent of the Soviet Jewry Movement or the Bergson group’s Emergency Committee?
I pray so.
Remember, never forget, Iran is the problem, not Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to congress and not Shmuley Boteach’s ad in the New York Times.