Is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach the Jewish Al Sharpton? Like the reverend who is often identified as “civil rights leader Al Sharpton,” Boteach is an amalgam of activism and self-promotion — having branded himself “America’s rabbi.” In his latest incarnation, the Chabad rabbi, turned sexpert turned spiritual adviser to the stars turned Republican congressional candidate, is now a pro-Israel activist on the right side of the political spectrum.
But no matter what it is that Boteach does, he always manages to make it personal. Take, for example, his recent attack on Hillel International president Eric Fingerhut. Writing in the New York Observer on Sunday, Boteach said that if Fingerhut “fought Israel’s enemies as ferociously as he fights its defenders, perhaps he wouldn’t be losing the war for Israel on campus.” Those are pretty strong words. Which made us wonder what Fingerhut did to deserve such harsh criticism.
Fingerhut has been the subject of much debate since he took the job in 2013 over how inclusive Hillel is regarding students’ attitudes toward Israel. Fingerhut essentially declared war on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and refused to allow programming on campus that tolerates BDS advocacy. But Boteach’s attack in the Observer had nothing to do with that. Instead, it was based on New York University Hillel’s decision not to co-sponsor a Boteach-promoted event featuring Ron Proser, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations. Apparently, one rejects Boteach’s invitation at his peril — leading to Boteach’s suggestion that the decision not to co-sponsor the event with him will lead to Israel’s doom on college campuses. That’s a pretty harsh conclusion even for a self-promoting advocate.
But there is no denying that Boteach manages to get his point across and that he has remarkable success in developing relationships and influencing results. Thus, in a full-page ad this week in The Washington Post and The New York Times, Nobel laureate and renowned voice for human rights Elie Wiesel announced he will attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial appearance before Congress on the day before Purim, noting that once again the Persians want to destroy the Jews. A fair enough stance, and a political declaration with which reasonable minds could disagree. But who sponsored these full-page ads? They were “organized, produced and paid for” by an organization called This World: The Values Network. Its executive director? America’s rabbi.