In the past few weeks, the new organization we started, JDN, the Jewish Defense Network, has had a number of great victories in the never-ending battle against antisemitism.
Let me first say when it comes to Jew-hatred, I’m fed up and I won’t take it no more. If we in the Jewish community don’t wake up to how bad it’s getting and how much worse it will get, then we have learned nothing from history. Our head-in-the-sand mentality will affect first and foremost our children. They’re the ones who have to go to universities where they take off their yarmulkes because they don’t want to be ostracized. They’re the ones who will refrain from attending a Yom Haatzmaut celebration or a public event supporting Israel because they don’t want to be targeted.
But we, the adults, will be next. Jew-hatred in America has gotten so bad that we ourselves will begin to believe that there must indeed be something wrong with us to have the whole world gang up on us and hate our guts.
The other night I took my wife to a kosher restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I brought with me a small folding bike (I love cycling) in order to ride home. As we got out of the taxi, it took me a few extra minutes to get the bike out of the back. The driver became increasingly perturbed, and as he drove off, he actually said to us, “You’re a bunch of Jews, aren’t you?”
He did not say it kindly.
I was shocked (but not really, as this is becoming increasingly common in New York) and turned to my wife and said, “Did you see how that disgusting antisemite spoke to us?”
My wife is the proudest Jewish woman I know, sporting a large Magen David on her neck wherever she goes. But even she said to me, “But Shmuley, it did take you a long time to get the bike out.”
“Debbie,” I said, “he could have called me an insensitive jerk. He could have said, ‘You’re a short, ugly, hairy beast.’ And it would have been water off a duck’s back (except for the hairy part, as I love having a beard). But what did my struggle to get the bike out of the taxi have to do with us being Jews?”
The answer, of course, is that when a community is subjected to so much hatred for so long, then even its proudest members begin to believe there must be something wrong with them.
That’s why the American Jewish community is at an inflection point. If we don’t begin to fight antisemitism with all our hearts, all our might, and all our soul, we and our kids will develop a serious self-loathing, to say nothing of the actual danger to Jewish safety that antisemitism represents.
Which brings me back to the Jewish Defense Network, the newest project of the World Values Network.
We decided that antisemites have to pay for, and be exposed, for their Jew hatred. We decided it’s time to take the gloves off and go after the Jew-haters and expose their moral corruption and human deterioration.
Take, for example, the horrors experienced by Rabbi Leo Dee, whose family experienced Holocaust-level annihilation this past Passover in Israel. His wife, Lucy, and their two daughters, Maia and Rina, were gunned down in cold blood by Hamas terrorists. And yet Christiane Amanpour of CNN, in interviewing the prime minister of Palestine, actually said that they died not in a terror attack but in a “shootout.” I knew Lucy Dee, the former Lucy Shaw, from the time she was a student at Oxford 30 years ago. Her husband, Rabbi Dee, is a moral giant whom I escorted to the Knesset a few weeks after the murder as a guest of Israel’s speaker, the openly gay Amir Ohana.
Imagine the pain of Rabbi Dee in one of the world’s most famous journalists suggesting that his wife and teenage daughters were firing back at Palestinian terrorists in a “shootout.” Together with Rabbi Dee, we requested an apology. David Zaslav, the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns CNN, is an old friend, from the time I hosted a show on Discovery-TLC. We were together at Auschwitz just weeks back. Amanpour wrote a private apology but would not do it on air.
Then, three weeks ago, it was my father’s yahrzeit, and Rabbi Dee and I did a public event in New York City. He got up and Zoomed in from Israel at 3:30 a.m. his time. We threatened a $1.3 billion lawsuit against CNN and backed it up with legendary attorney Ben Brafman saying he would pro bono the entire case.
Less than 24 hours later Amanpour, forced into her apology, ate crow and went on international TV to publicly apologize to Rabbi Dee.
How sad that she had to be forced to do the right thing.
Then our Jewish Defense Network, which publishes five extremely well researched posts per day on the most egregious attacks against Jews in blue-chip publications daily, discovered that just days after the truly vile Jew-hater Roger Waters had dressed up like a Nazi in a concert in Germany and floated a pig with a star of David, Bobby Kennedy, the Democratic presidential candidate, had praised Waters as a man of courage.
We went after Kennedy, saying that his father was one of the greatest supporters of Israel in American history and was therefore assassinated by Palestinian gunman Sirhan Sirhan in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel, where my mother, of blessed memory, once worked in a bank.
To his everlasting credit, Kennedy got in touch with me and flew in for a meeting in New York. We spent hours and hours on Shabbat talking. He said he is a champion of Israel, loves the Jewish people, has always fought for Jewish rights, and had been completely misunderstood. He explained that he had heard that Waters flashed a picture of him at a concert, praising him as an iconoclast, and that Kennedy had reacted to that. He knew nothing of his antisemitism.
I believe him, because we in the Jewish community have not done enough to expose Waters and his ilk.
The next day Bobby Kennedy marched with me at the Israel Day parade carrying a huge Israeli flag for hours. He utterly repudiated Waters and his disgusting antisemitism. Kennedy told me his campaign will champion Israel’s security and the Jewish people’s ancient attachment to their homeland. Thus far, he has more than kept his word.
What I most like about Kennedy is how you can disagree with him on other issues and he takes no offense, unlike the embarrassing partisan candidates who populate both parties.
I told him I disagree with him passionately on his vaccine skepticism and that I’m — thank God — fully vaxed. He told me that even his wife, the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star, Cheryl Hines, disagrees with him, a fact highlighted in a New York Times profile of the actress that appeared this past Sunday. I told him that my organization, the World Values Network, last year gave our highest award at Carnegie Hall to Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, who is a child of Holocaust survivors and who, arguably more than anyone else, developed the covid-19 vaccines. Bourla is a great man who has saved millions of lives. Bobby didn’t flinch. “Shmuley, that’s your right. I get it.”
On and on our conversation went. Before we left each other Sunday, he told me, “Shmuley, I want you to do know, that the most important thing in my life is God. I want to serve God. And God is calling me to protect the Jewish people.” His eyes reddened as he said it and it touched me deeply.
Bobby and I spent this week speaking about a strong response to Iran and its barbaric treatment of women.
I know that many Jews, including some I deeply respect, disagree with me passionately about Bobby Kennedy. Many think his anti-vaccine stance is deeply dangerous for America.
But with Bobby Kennedy now polling at 23% of the entire Democratic field, having yet another warrior join the fight against the antisemites is vital. I welcome him and thank him for his courage. Who knows? Maybe it will take a vaccine skeptic to help develop the antidote to the world’s oldest virus.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “Judaism for Everyone”
and “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter