Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Boteach: "J Street - A Shameful Address"

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach launches a scathing attack on J Street and the New York Times in today's Jerusalem Post. J Street has come to be the group that conservative columnists at Jerusalem Post love to hate. And today's hypercritical rant is brought to you by the title "J Street - A Shameful Address."

While Boteach's columns are usually pretty reasonable, though often opinionated, today's diatribe goes completely overboard. The article is the epitome of the kind of knee-jerk jump to worst-case scenario analysis that plagues the debate on Israel policy in all its facets.

Consider this excerpt from the article: J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami explains why traditional pro-Israel groups get nervous when groups that dissent arise:

"Ben-Ami added further that [right-wing] groups stifle dissent because they argue that 'we're still on too-shaky ground to permit public disagreement."

Next sentence: Boteach's summary. Quoted directly. Without edits:

"In Ben-Ami's opinion AIPAC is run by paranoid schizophrenics."

Ben Ami's point was that the conservative Pro-Israel movement fears that dissent from within the Jewish/Pro-Israel community could be used by anti-Israel lobbyists to tarnish Israel's image. By saying this statement equates AIPAC lobbyists with schizophrenics, Boteach is not only making a jump which is logically inconceivable, he's missing the bigger point: Ben-Ami's characterization is accurate.

Fear of public disagreement is indeed a concern (and a legitimate one) held by more conservative members of the Pro-Israel community. In fact, today in Boteach's own paper an article appears about IDF Refuseniks on a tour of the U.S. In response to the news, StandWithUs founder Dani Klein states:

"When they see Israelis come out against their own country or their own army, in this instance, it gives those who want to be anti-Israel the fodder to do it."

So besides drawing ridiculous conclusions about Ben-Ami's statement, Boteach leaves out the inconvenient detail that Ben-Ami is right...as proven by Boteach's own newspaper.

In that Rabbi Boteach is ultimately calling for civil and reasonable discourse, his point is well taken. But to posit that J Street is to blame for the lack of civility in Jewish/Pro-Israel politics is one-sided at best and a blatantly false and ridiculous assertion at worst. Can Boteach write off the onslaught of anti-J-Street press from the Jerusalem Post and other conservative newspapers as the fault of progressive leftists? What about the attacks from the right wing on anyone who would support Ahmedinejad's visit to the UN in New York this fall? What about the hounding from right-wing pro-Israel groups of Boston ADL chief Andrew Tarsy, who in August 2007 had the gaul to suggest that the Armenian genocide, in fact, happened?*

If Boteach truly wishes to make the case for civility, the inciting, partial, and one-sided argument he espouses is hardly leading by example. And if he thinks J Street is a shameful address, one would be well-served to lend a critical eye to where Rabbi Boteach comes home to hang his ideological hat.

*The current Israeli stance on the Armenian genocide is neutral, most likely in order to preserve positive relations with Turkey, a key moderate Muslim ally, and supplier of water to Israel and Syria.

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