What might account for Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner’s unusual and unhealthy obsession with me (“Please, Rabbi Boteach,” November 20, print, and posted here)?
Over the past few months, Iran repeatedly has threatened to annihilate the Jewish people. Israelis are being slashed, blown up, and murdered on a near-daily basis. And ISIS is mowing down people around the world.
But what is the pressing issue that makes Rabbi Kirshner’s blood boil to where he exclaims, “I have been biting my tongue for so long I am afraid that I might have a hole in it?”
While some in America believe in the first amendment, Kirshner calls my columns a “crime.” In this hysterical and repetitive rant, I was reminded of the sad legacy of Rabbi Steven S. Wise.
Wise was the Reform Jewish leader during the Holocaust who was more upset by Jewish activists who publicly called out FDR for inaction against the annihilation of European Jewry than by the atrocities themselves. Wise condemned Peter Bergson, the heroic leader who took out hundreds of ads in the New York Times to publicly criticize American officials who were blind to the horrors in Europe, as being “worse than Hitler.” Wise’s name today lives in infamy. Bergson’s efforts helped to save 200,000 Jews.
For too long the Jewish community has chosen political access over legitimate public agitation. Rather than taking my cues from Steven Wise and his ideological bedfellow David-Seth Kirshner, I prefer the example of Martin Luther King Jr., arguably the greatest American of the 20th century, who repeatedly risked his relationship with presidents and senators to march against the abomination of segregation and racism.
In April 1963 King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a group of eight white clergy who, like Rabbi Kirshner, published an attack on King, painting him an agitator whose activities were “unwise and untimely.” In the letter King wrote his famous line: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He added, “We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights.”
Well, Rabbi Kirshner, a threat to annihilate the Jews anywhere is a threat to civilized people everywhere. Why would you not join me in demanding our president and elected leaders hold Iran accountable for repeatedly threatening to annihilate Israel?
As a people, Rabbi Kirshner, we have waited 2,000 years for our right to speak out courageously against policies of our government and elected officials that would endanger human life, such as giving $150 billion to the bloodthirsty mullahs of Iran.
I believe in speaking truth to power and calling out our elected officials when they play politics with genocide and genocidal intent. But in his obsessive condemnation of Jews who publicly challenge authority, Kirshner becomes blind to his own hypocrisy. He accuses me of ad hominem attacks but refers in his writings to Prime Minister Netanyahu as “sneaky,” a man guilty of “cheap moves.” Bibi makes him “embarrassed” to be a Zionist. So consumed is Kirshner with contempt for Israel’s elected leader that he is not above invoking old anti-Semitic, Shylockian stereotypes to attack the prime minister, going so far as saying Netanyahu “unnecessarily feeds a derisive narrative of the conniving Israeli in the marketplace.”
But Kirshner’s inconsistency is most glaring with his attack on rabbis who are not courageous enough to speak out on Israel. “I am surprised,” he writes, “to see an article in the New York Times … which claims many rabbinic colleagues — most maintaining anonymity for fear of their views affecting their positions — will not broach Israel… for fear of offending the right or left.” So which is it, Rabbi Kirshner? You want rabbis to defend Israel but never criticize President Obama for remaining silent in the face of Iranian calls for another Jewish genocide? You want rabbis to protect Israel but not hold Susan Rice accountable for falsely accusing Netanyahu of opposing Obama’s Iran deal because the President is black, as the administration’s own Dennis Ross revealed? You want us to guard Israel but not hold John Kerry accountable for justifying terrorism in Israel as being provoked by settlements?
Do you think these individuals are princes or noblemen, above any censure? Are you not an American who believes they are merely servants of the people and are accountable for their actions?
I mean, really?
In a truly regrettable line in light of recent events in Paris, Rabbi Kirshner even attacked Netanyahu for addressing a joint session of Congress against the Iran deal with this: “Do we want Francois Hollande standing before our elected officials and explaining … what is the best vehicle to stop terror?” Come to think of it, David, why, yes. Most Americans would welcome a speech from the French leader who has just pledged to be “pitiless” against the monsters of ISIS. Wouldn’t you?
Rabbi Kirshner also invokes blatant sexism when he insinuates that we dare not criticize elected officials who are women. One could only imagine the horror on the faces of people like my friend Ambassador Samantha Power when they read that a gallant knight like David-Seth Kirshner is riding to the defense of the helpless, weaker sex. I was Samantha’s biggest public supporter for the nomination to become UN ambassador, until she inexplicably refused to pledge backing for Israel against a unilateral UN declaration of Palestinian statehood. She then protected the administration after it refused to punish Bashar Assad for gassing Arab children. I will always protest the murder of my Arab brothers and sisters by bloodthirsty tyrants, however much it offends Samantha or Rabbi Kirshner.
But Rabbi Kirshner is not done yet. In a final desperate lunge he maligns me with trying to turn “support for Israel into a political football that will further divide the political parties.”
I seem to recall that it was I who wrote in these pages just two weeks ago that Israel’s greatest friend in the entire United States Senate is not a Republican but New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez. Indeed, together with my close friend and former student Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, I presented Senator Menendez with the “Defender of Israel” award at our World Values Network International Champions of Jewish Values Gala in Times Square last May. It was also our organization that took out a full page ad in the New York Times thanking Senator Menendez for being “Israel’s great friend and Iran’s worst nightmare.”
And unless he has been living on Mars, Rabbi Kirshner is aware that for the past quarter century I have championed the cause of my close friend Cory Booker in the Jewish community. He happens to be a Democrat.
I’m sorry that my outspokenness offends you so, Rabbi Kirshner. But get over it. You can publish another ten screeds of character assassination and I will not stop. You may call on publications to censor me and I will not cease.
Not until Jewish life is finally prized as much as every other life. Not until Israel is treated with fairness and decency. Not until Jewish blood ceases to flow like a river in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Not until genocidal threats against our people and all people come to an end. And not until I rouse even Jews like yourself to take up the cudgel for your people.
Even if it means that you’ll need to see the dentist for the holes in your tongue, I will not stop.