What’s with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and why is he attacking Eric Fingerhut, the president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life?
We have watched with interest as Boteach has expanded his areas of influence and claimed expertise. He moved from serving as a Chabad rabbi at Oxford University to styling himself an expert on sexual relations; he was a spiritual adviser to the stars and a Republican congressional candidate and is now is a pro-Israel activist with a rightward-leaning agenda. He is also a man of significant intellect, committed activism and remarkable self-promotion, who has branded himself “America’s rabbi.”
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.
According to Boteach’s own telling of events, not that much. Fingerhut, a former congressman, Ohio state senator and chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, has been the subject of much debate since he took the Hillel job in 2013 over how inclusive the organization is regarding student attitudes toward Israel. Fingerhut has essentially declared war on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and has refused to allow programming on campus that tolerates BDS advocacy. These are all positions with which Boteach would presumably agree.
As it turns out, Boteach’s attack in the Observer had nothing to do with any of Fingerhut’s positions. 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. According to an earlier op-ed in the Observer, Boteach’s This World: The Values Network “has arranged for Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor to give a major speech on the growing global demonization of Israel at Cooper Union’s Great Hall,” the same location as a speech last fall by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Boteach asked for the local Hillel chapter to co-sponsor the event or, barring that, to blast out the details to its email list. Hillel chose not to and apparently told Boteach that it was more interested in bringing Prosor to a later panel discussion on anti-Semitism.
Apparently, one rejects Boteach’s invitation at his peril: His latest suggestion is that the decision not to co-sponsor the event, which he lays at Fingerhut’s feet, will lead to Israel’s doom on college campuses. That’s a pretty harsh conclusion, no matter how strongly one chooses to advocate.