Boteach Should Focus on Changing Qatar, Not on Attacking Jewish Leaders’ Efforts to Do So
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 Shmuley is downplaying accomplishments stemming from the meetings with the Emir and other Qatari officials; he is also distorting what occurred there.
For instance, on February 13, Shmuley 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 of all, 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, with 355 publishing houses, including 82 children’s publishing houses, representing 29 Arab and foreign countries. School systems, libraries and bookstores purchase their offerings there.
The International Publishers’ Association reported that the 2017 Doha book fair had almost 24,000 individual and almost 10,000 “professional” (libraries, bookstores, etc.) visitors. In 2022, the Doha book fair will be held in conjunction with the World Cup, resulting in more attendees than ever. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre-Europe thought that this issue was important enough to repeatedly report on it, and seek to eliminate the vile antisemitism at the Doha book fair. ZOA incorporated information from the Wiesenthal’s Centre into our extensive report to Qatari officials, demanding changes.
It’s surely easy to criticize and downplay achievements. But what has Shmuley done lately to lessen antisemitism throughout the Arab world?
Shmuley’s stream of unfair, outrageous accusations against dedicated 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?
We should be working together on such issues, without Shmuley’s barrage of unfair criticism.
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 CEO Malcolm Hoenlein, Governor Mike Huckabee, the Orthodox Union’s Rabbi Menachem Genack, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, pro-Israel radio personality John Batchelor, American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen, Religious Zionists of America President Martin Oliner, Mort Klein and others.
Indeed, by my count, 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 and no recognition.”
Today, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, anti-Israel hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, 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 Mnuchin’s announcement in late October of increased Qatari-US cooperation in combatting 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 Mort Klein, they advised him that Qatar no longer wants to be what Qatar used to be — that Qatar wants to change, and wants to become a better country.
I was accordingly among those who ultimately urged the head of the organization that I work for — Mr. Klein — to finally go to Qatar to fight for our people, which he admirably and exhaustively did in January.
It is wrong, counterproductive and a distraction from the real issues for Shmuley 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 Shmuley to persistently harangue, impugn the motives of, and engage in ugly, juvenile name-calling (such as “stupid,” “own worst enemies,” “junketeers,” “condoning murder,”) directed at the top pro-Israel leaders who made the trip to Doha to try to help the Jewish people and Israel.
It is also wrong and unhelpful that Shmuley called the Emir a “liar,” due to an over-zealous Qatari official’s leak of Mort Klein’s meeting with the Emir. There is no substantiation that the Emir had anything to do with the leak. (Mort has insisted his meetings remain confidential.)
It is also wrong and unhelpful for Shmuley to repeatedly falsely claim that the Emir asked Klein to “lobby” Congress. The Emir did not ask Mr. Klein to “lobby.” The Emir simply asked Mr. Klein to ask members of Congress to visit Doha, to see and learn about Qatar firsthand. Mr. Klein responded that he would not do so until he sees long-lasting, significant changes.
Also, if Shmuley believes that Jewish leaders’ visits to Qatar are giving Qatar positive “legitimizing” publicity, then why is Shmuley giving even more publicity to those visits with his barrage of articles and tweets? Incredibly, on one day (February 13), Shmuley 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 just ends, one must use “just” means. Unsubstantiated and false statements and name-calling are not “just” means.
Shmuley, 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 me, and engaged them in dialogue.
Shmuley engages in the great mitzvah of playing “matchmaker” to bring people together. Together with his lovely wife Debbie, Shmuley has raised his nine beautiful children to become wonderful human beings, apparently using these principles — a terrific accomplishment.
Sadly, Shmuley’s acrimonious condemnations of well-meaning pro-Israel leaders regarding Qatar contradicts everything that Shmuley preaches in his books, practices at his Shabbat table and taught his beautiful children.
And unfortunately, this is not the first time that Shmuley has engaged in unsavory tactics that are beneath him, when I and others in the pro-Israel community disagreed with Shmuley on serious issues.
In 2013, Shmuley supported and continually defended UN Ambassador nominee Samantha Power, despite Power’s terrible longstanding anti-Israel and borderline antisemitic record. Power had even urged investing billions of dollars into a Palestinian-Arab state and providing a “mammoth” military force to “protect” a Palestinian-Arab state from Israel, and falsely accused Israel of human rights abuses. ZOA articles listed over a dozen cogent examples of Power’s harmful statements and record — which surely should have disqualified her from becoming America’s UN ambassador. (See, e.g., “ZOA Opposes Obama Nominee Samantha Power For U.N. Ambassador,” June 5, 2013, and “More Reasons To Oppose Obama’s Nomination of Samantha Power As U.N. Ambassador,” ZOA, June 6, 2013.)
ZOA’s and other pro-Israel groups’ opposition to Samantha Power turned out to be correct: Power ended up enabling the passage of one of the worst anti-Israel UN Security Council resolutions in history.
Shmuley was, of course, entitled to his own views about Samantha Power. But his methods of defending Power were troubling: he spoke of what a wonderful human being Power was (which was irrelevant to her record); justified one of her awful statements as a “thought exercise”; misleadingly acted as if this one issue was the only problem, while ignoring the rest of her horrible record that had been pointed out to him; and instead portrayed himself as a victim who “endured phenomenal criticism from close colleagues” for defending Power.
Turning back to Qatar:
Another target of Shmuley’s vitriolic attacks, Orthodox Jewish attorney and Qatari consultant Dr. Nick Muzin, has now alleged — in the Forward weekly — that Shmuley pleaded to lead a delegation to meet with the Emir and demanded a six-figure compensation, and that Shmuley only started attacking those visiting Qatar after the Qataris turned down Shmuley’s requests. If this is true, it’s quite damning.
Members of the Jewish community are referring to the Muzin-Shmuley dispute as “an all-out war.” It’s a war that risks further distracting us from the real issues, such as to how to best effect change regarding Qatar and Al Jazeera.
While assisting Klein’s preparations for his meetings with Qatari officials, I viewed countless Al Jazeera antisemitic videos and articles. This is what we should be focusing on. This is what Shmuley should focus on attacking — not the Jewish leaders who are attempting to change this state of affairs.
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.
Shmuley’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 Shmuley should reread his own good relationship and communications advice, and stick to the real issues, honestly and respectfully stated. He should 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.
Liz Berney, Esq. is the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)’s Director of Special Projects. She previously guest taught an adult ed class on Qatar.