Boteach under fire for controversial ad

Conservative rabbi Shmuley Boteach slammed by prime minister, US Jewish organizations over campaign against Susan Rice.

March 1, 2015 20:01
3 minute read.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – American Jewish organizations and the Israeli government are condemning Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for a campaign he launched against National Security Adviser Susan Rice over the weekend with an ad accusing her of complicity in genocide.

In a full-page ad in The New York Times, Boteach’s organization claims Rice steered then-president Bill Clinton to avoid using the term “genocide” before the 1994 November midterms, fearing political repercussions should the White House appear complacent.

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Boteach tied this alleged political calculation to Rice’s comments last week on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which the premier says is necessary for the protection of the State of Israel. Rice said his decision to accept the invitation is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between Israel and the United States.

“The spurious and perverse association of criticism of Israel’s prime minister with ignoring genocide not only poisons the discourse on a vital global security issue,” Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

“It trivializes the horrific nature of genocide and the memory of its victims.”

Boteach’s source for his claim is US President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, whom Boteach characterized as “my good friend” in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night.

“Samantha Power,” he said, “is the one who called her complicit in genocide.”

He was referring to a quote in an article published in The Atlantic by Power in September 2001, titled “Bystanders to Genocide,” which claims to quote Rice.

“It’s her quote,” Boteach continued. “Foxman must take it up with Samantha Power.”

Explaining his argument, Boteach compared Israel’s absence at the nuclear negotiations with Iran to Czechoslovakia’s absence in Munich during talks with Adolf Hitler over the Sudetenland in 1938.

“The question is whether Susan Rice’s most recent attack on the Israeli prime minister follows in a similar pattern,” he said. “Iran has threatened genocide on Israel on numerous occasions.”

Power’s associates reject Boteach’s characterization of their relationship as a “close friendship,” and her office is choosing to allow comments from the American Jewish community to speak for themselves.

Boteach calls Foxman, too, a close friend and colleague. “Abe Foxman is a friend of mine who I deeply respect,” he said over the phone. “He should be attacking the leaders of Iran and their genocidal threat against Israel. Anything else, in my opinion, is an abdication of his responsibility.”

Indeed, Foxman was joined by an alphabet soup of organizations from across the political spectrum, ranging from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to J Street, from the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Assembly to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Those organizations describe the advertisement, featuring a graphic in which Rice is staring at skulls, as “grotesque,” “abhorrent,” “outrageous,” and a “sinister slur,” among other terms.

AIPAC, in particular, targeted Boteach’s efforts as an “ad hominem attack” with “no place in our discourse.”

The prime minister’s office also condemned the ad, which ran amid concerns in Washington that the US-Israel relationship is growing increasingly partisan.

“We condemn this advertisement,” the prime minister’s office said, clarifying: “We did not know about it. And we are opposed to such personal attacks.”

Boteach says he has a relationship with the prime minister, which Netanyahu’s confidants deny. He was also the rabbi at Oxford when Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, was a student there.

Both men have been accused of partisanship in recent weeks, ever since Netanyahu accepted an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to address Congress. Netanyahu will speak on Tuesday, two weeks before Israel’s elections.

“We make no apologies whatsoever for our staunch defense of the Jewish state,” said Boteach, adding that his considerations to run the ad at this time, days before Netanyahu’s address to Congress, were “self-evident.”

Several outlets, including the Rabbinical Assembly, have suggested he apologize to Rice. “I’m surprised Jewish Democrats would give her a pass,” he said.

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