Boteach should focus on changing Qatar, not on attacking Jewish efforts to do so

Boteach’s efforts to demean and humiliate Jewish-Qatari dialogue participants could have unknown deleterious consequences.

Doha, Qatar (photo credit: NASEEM ZEITOON/REUTERS)
Doha, Qatar
I am deeply disappointed by my friend Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s repeated vitriolic, distorted attacks on dedicated pro-Israel Jewish leaders who met with Qatari officials and the Qatari emir to urge changes in Qatari and Al Jazeera policies, for the benefit of the Jewish people, Israel and the US.
I am also deeply disappointed that Boteach is downplaying accomplishments stemming from the meetings with the emir and other Qatari officials.
For instance, on February 13, Boteach tweeted regarding Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) president Morton Klein’s meetings last month: “Only concession Emir #Qatar agreed to for @zoa_national was to get rid of antisemitic books at the Doha book fair.”
First of all, Klein’s meetings involved far more potential good than this. Second, getting rid of antisemitic books at the Doha book fair is an important achievement. Books have been a prime vehicle for indoctrinating Arab youth to hate Jews. Eliminating such indoctrination can help bring about a more peaceful future. The Doha book fair is a major annual week-long cultural event. In 2022, the Doha book fair will be held in conjunction with the World Cup, resulting in more attendees than ever.
Boteach’s stream of unfair, outrageous accusations against wise, dedicated and unquestionably pro-Israel leaders is distracting the pro-Israel Jewish community from the real issues. Namely: how we do we effect long-lasting changes in Qatari policies? How do we stop Al Jazeera’s antisemitism and anti-Israel propaganda? Can we enlist Qatar to push Hamas to return bodies of dead Israeli soldiers to their families? Can we move Qatar to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with Israel?
Fair-minded people can differ as to the best method for addressing these matters. Most now believe that it can be helpful to accept the opportunity to meet with, fight for and directly express our concerns to the emir and other Qatari officials.
Those with this view include top pro-Israel leaders who met with Qatari officials, including Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations executive Malcolm Hoenlein, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Orthodox Union Rabbi Menachem Genack, Harvard Law School Prof. Alan Dershowitz, pro-Israel radio personality John Batchelor, American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen, Religious Zionists of America president Martin Oliner, ZOA president Mort Klein, and others.
Indeed, no top US Jewish organizational leader has opposed the Qatari meetings.
A major problem that Israel and the Jewish people have faced for decades is “anti-normalization” – Arab refusals to have normal meetings, conversations, negotiations, diplomatic relations, economic cooperation, cultural exchanges and other interchanges with Israelis and Jews. The Arab League’s infamous “3 Nos of Khartoum” were “no peace, no negotiations, no recognition.” Today, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, anti-Israel hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine operating on college campuses, and the anti-Israel antisemitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement all engage in “anti-normalization,” refusing any semblance of normal dialogue, exchanges and negotiations.
The Qatari emir’s invitations to hear the concerns of pro-Israel leaders are thus a notable and important development.
After US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s announcement in late October of increased Qatari-US cooperation in combating terrorism financing, I began to believe that meetings with Qatari officials could have significant potential upside and minimal downside.
Throughout history, Jewish leaders have met with hostile leaders on behalf of the Jewish people.
When the emir’s agents invited Klein, they advised him that Qatar no longer wants to be what Qatar used to be, and that Qatar wants to change, and wants to become a better country.
It is wrong, counterproductive, and a distraction from the real issues to turn honest differences of opinion as to methods, among well-meaning people who have the same goals, into a battle.
It is wrong, counterproductive and a distraction from the real issues for Boteach to persistently harangue, impugn the motives of and engage in ugly, juvenile name-calling directed at the top pro-Israel leaders who made the exhausting 13-hour flight to Doha to try to help the Jewish people and Israel.
It is also wrong and unhelpful to call the emir a “liar” due to an over-zealous Qatari official’s leak of Klein’s meeting with the emir. There is no substantiation that the emir had anything to do with the leak. (Klein had insisted his meetings remain confidential.)
It is also wrong and unhelpful for Boteach to repeatedly falsely claim that the emir asked Klein to “lobby” Congress.
The emir did not ask Klein to “lobby.” The emir simply asked Klein to ask members of Congress to visit Doha, to see and learn about Qatar firsthand. Klein responded that he will not do so until he sees long-lasting, significant changes.
Also, if Boteach believes that Jewish leaders’ visits to Qatar are giving Qatar positive “legitimizing” publicity, then why is he giving even more publicity to those visits with his barrage of articles and tweets? Incredibly, on one day (February 13), Boteach posted 36 tweets related to the Qatar issue! And it didn’t start or stop then.
Commentators believe that the Torah phrase “justice, justice, you shall pursue” states the word “justice” twice because when fighting for justice ends, one must use “just” means. Unsubstantiated and false statements and name-calling are not “just” means.
Boteach, of all people, should know better. He has published a slew of popular books about relationships, encouraging people to respectfully and peacefully listen, communicate, converse and connect with one another “to create an environment for inspiration and change.” His worthwhile Shalom in the Home reality television show was similarly aimed at encouraging peaceful communication and change.
He has regularly warmly welcomed at his Shabbat table people from all walks of life, including myself, and engaged them in dialogue. Sadly, the acrimonious condemnations of well-meaning pro-Israel leaders regarding Qatar contradicts everything he preaches in his books, and practices at his Shabbat table.
Turning back to Qatar:
On January 15, 2018, President Trump “thanked the emir for Qatari action to counter terrorism and extremism in all forms, including being one of the few countries to move forward on a bilateral memorandum of understanding.”
Instead of attacking Jewish leaders who are trying to help, we should all focus on assuring that such Qatari indications of change are, or become real, effective and long-lasting.
Boteach’s efforts to demean and humiliate Jewish-Qatari dialogue participants could have unknown deleterious consequences. Humiliation is a dangerous two-edged sword. The Talmud relates that the events leading up to the Romans’ tragic destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE began with an invitation to a party gone awry, and the humiliation of the mistakenly-invited guest.
As a friend, I’d like to suggest that Boteach reread his own good relationship and communications advice, and stick to the real issues, honestly and respectfully stated. Find a way to peaceably resolve his disputes with Nick Muzin and others. And really rethink, listen to and discuss with pro-Israel leaders what he can do to help, rather than hinder, these leaders’ efforts to effect change and help our people.
The author is the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s director of special projects. She previously guest taught an adult ed class on Qatar.