A disagreeable way to disagree on the Iran deal

"I believe that strong relationships, even in disagreement, are in Israel’s best interests rather than bullying, bluster and baloney."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I have taken many controversial positions on political matters in my rabbinic career, and I have probably called out a few politicians for acting in ways I consider egregious. But I was floored at the coarse and dismissive way that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discussed Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in these pages. Rabbi Boteach has been looking for a toehold in the public imagination after his failed run for Congress and public dare of Sen. Corey Booker. This personal attack on a respected and effective legislator is conduct unbecoming, especially with the echoes of repentance still ringing in our ears.
Rabbi Boteach and I disagree on the Iran deal. I took no public stance on it, because I found the arguments on both sides to be compelling, so our disagreement is not over being counted pro or con. Our disagreement is over the motivations of each side. Like Rep. Wasserman Schultz, my internal deliberations were over the right approach to better protect the world in general and Israel in particular from a nuclearized Iran.
Posing the dilemma as choosing between “Israel’s security needs and President Obama’s negotiated deal” belies both the rabbi’s prejudice and his presumptiveness in declaring the congresswoman’s values. Not surprisingly, her statements do not bear out his perspective.
Rabbi Boteach and I disagree on how to conduct disagreements. Necessary to his arguments were personal disparagements even of the examples he held up in support: Harry Truman harbored deep prejudices; Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite; and Rep.
Wasserman Schultz cried “a river of tears” and is a failure in her Jewish responsibilities.
In my experience, when hyperbole and ad hominem attacks are necessary to an argument, there isn’t much substance to the argument itself. But beyond the undignified approach is the matter of basic humanity. Someday I may have to meet the objects of scorn and derision (or children and grandchildren thereof) and look them in the eye.
I do not have the confidence that my personal prejudices about an individual are definitive; it seems that Rabbi Boteach does.
And Rabbi Boteach and I disagree on what constitutes support for Israel. While he does a good job of setting up a straw woman, he comes up short in knocking it down. Truman’s support of Israel was because of his friendship with one of the Jews he supposedly hated. Nixon’s decision to arm Israel was likely the result of statecraft by Henry Kissinger, one of the Jews he supposedly hated.
AIPAC, whose bona fides in opposing the agreement are unquestionable, continues to value the leadership of Rep. Wasserman Schultz as an important ally in Congress.
I believe that strong relationships, even in disagreement, are in Israel’s best interests rather than bullying, bluster and baloney.
Where we do agree is that actions speak louder than words. I have always found that the congresswoman and her staff are exquisitely responsive to respectful communication.
But taking ugly language to the streets and holding up a dedicated public servant to ridicule for her integrity? These are not words, but actions, and they are destructive actions at that.
Deciding how to vote on the Iran deal was not an easy decision. It’s clear to me that it’s one the congresswoman struggled with and came out believing that the deal was in the best interests of both the United States and Israel. The reality is that the deal is now in place, and it is going to stay in place. Even those who opposed it should now be focused on working toward its success.
If Rabbi Boteach and those who share his perspective are planning to stand back and wait in hopes that the deal fails, they will put Israel and all its inhabitants at risk. So let’s put aside the name calling and accusations and embrace this new reality and unite as a community in the best interest of Israel.
I don’t know what Rabbi Boteach hoped to accomplish with this column. If he is planning to run against Rep. Wasserman Schultz, I doubt aligning himself with Nixon will peel off many of her Democratic supporters. If he is hoping to sound a clarion call, I believe his notes fell flat. But if he was just looking to take a gratuitous swipe at someone for not being his kind of Jew, then I can credit him with great success.
The writer, a long-time pro-Israel activist, lives in northern Virginia.