Jewish groups slam ad by celebrity rabbi
Shmuley Boteach's attack on Obama official called "revolting" and "abhorrent"
WASHINGTON — An unusually wide array of Jewish groups condemned an ad by a foundation associated with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach accusing National Security Adviser Susan Rice of turning a blind eye to genocide.
“Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide,” said the advertisement appearing in Saturday’s New York Times, touting a talk on Iran this week in Washington hosted by Boteach, the Englewood, NJ-based author and pro-Israel advocate.
As soon as the Sabbath ended, Jewish groups rushed to condemn the ad by Boteach's organization, known as This World: The Values Network.
The American Jewish Committee called it “revolting,” the Anti-Defamation League called it “spurious and perverse,” the Jewish Federations of North America called it “outrageous” and Josh Block, the president of The Israel Project, said it was “entirely inappropriate.”
Marshall Wittmann, the spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which will host Rice on Monday at its annual conference, said, “Ad hominem attacks should have no place in our discourse.”
On Sunday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement blasting the ad.
Other condemnations came from the Orthodox Union, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. In a combined statement, the leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism and Reform’s Religious Action Center called the ad “grotesque,” “abhorrent” and a “sinister slur.”
The ad notes Rice’s recent complaints about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday, which was organized without consulting the White House. Netanyahu plans to speak against the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers, which President Barack Obama backs. Rice said last week that the way the speech was organized was “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The ad also notes a controversy from the 1990s, when Rice was on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff and reportedly advised against describing the mass killings in Rwanda as “genocide.”
“Ms. Rice may be blind to the issue of genocide, but should treat our ally with at least as much diplomatic courtesy as she does the committed enemy of both our nations,” it said.
In an interview, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who directs the Rabbinical Assembly, said Rice deserved an apology from Boteach.
The ad “is completely inconsistent with the record of friendship and loyalty this public official has shown Israel and the Jewish people,” Schonfeld said.
Rice grew close to pro-Israel and Jewish groups during her stint as U.S. envoy to the United Nations, in Obama’s first term, through her efforts to head off attacks on Israel and protect vulnerable populations in Sudan.
“It is not up to Shmuley Boteach to make it appear this is the way the Jewish community treats our friends,” Schonfeld said.
Boteach in an interview said he stood behind the ad.
“The stakes could not be higher, and our ad rightly points out that Susan Rice has gone beyond any mandate in condemning the prime minister for simply speaking out,” he said. “Condemnation should be directed not at those who seek to give Israel a voice but to those who seek to deny it.”
Boteach, whose talk on Monday will take place in a Senate office building and will include Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist, as well as Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has appealed to AIPAC activists to attend.
Sherman condemned the ad on Twitter, but did not say if he was still participating in the event it was promoting.
“This ad is outrageous and harms the U.S.-Israel alliance,” he said. “It should be denounced in every forum.”
AIPAC, like many of the groups that have condemned the ad, is skeptical of the Iran nuclear talks.
Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, a group that has been pronouncedly skeptical of the talks, on Twitter described the ad as an “inappropriate ad hominem attack” that “doesn’t advance discourse on key issue of Iran.”
Rabbi Steve Gutow, who heads the JCPA, the public policy umbrella for the community, said the ad was a blow against bipartisan support for Israel.
“It’s a sad moment for the Jewish community to have this ad appear,” he said in an interview.