There are few Jewish journalists I like and respect as much as Samuel Freedman, a distinguished professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. If he criticizes me, I take it seriously.
Sam wrote a lengthy feature on me and my friend Peter Noel when we co-hosted WWRL 1600 AM’s morning show in 2002-2003. It was a groundbreaking radio program on America’s legacy black radio station that featured a renowned African-American journalist and a rabbi dueling it out for four hours every morning. Peter became a brother to me and remains so until today, one of the truly fine people I know amid our myriad political disagreements. Sam’s lengthy feature in The New York Times captured the vibrancy of our morning program and the capacity of people from different backgrounds to find common ground and love each other. I still have it prominently displayed in my home.
But now Sam writes in Ha’aretz that I have become worse than a medieval court Jew. I, along with Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and Alan Dershowitz, am a fig leaf for the imagined racism of Donald Trump and his stalwarts like Steve Bannon.
Firstly, Sam seems to be confusing me with members of the incoming Trump administration. I enjoy no such position. Second, he knows there is nothing about me that would ever tolerate racism in even the most minute amount.
From the time I appointed Cory Booker – today, New Jersey’s junior U.S. Senator – as President of our Jewish student organization at Oxford, to being fired from another radio show for using my perch to help relocate African-American evacuees after Hurricane Katrina, to bringing Rev Al Sharpton on a solidarity mission to Israel right after 9/11, I have gone to the mat to oppose racism in every form.
Indeed, amid my friendship with leaders in the Trump campaign and warm relationship with members of his family, I came out strongly in the election against any temporary attempt to ban Muslims from America alongside my praise for Donald Trump’s staunch support for Israel.
But what troubles me about Sam’s criticism of me, Kushner, and others, is this: he is more concerned about anonymous white supremacists writing comments on websites than Iran being legitimized as a genocidal power with the stated intention of annihilating the Jewish people.
Let’s be clear. White supremacists are disgusting, gross, and vile people. They are an abomination to God and America. They are sick and twisted people who need serious help.
But, at least for now, I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu: they are a fringe element in American society and pose no serious genocidal threat to any American group.
So why is Sam condemning Bannon, who used his platform at Breitbart to repeatedly condemn Iran for its illegal nuclear program to build weapons that could be used to carry out the regime’s stated intention of annihilating Israel?
Bannon is being accused of being an anti-Semite. That is character assassination, pure and simple.
Tell me how a man who publicly fights BDS, fights Iran, and opens a bureau in Jerusalem to support Israel is a Jew-hater? Tell me how a man who appoints some of the proudest Jews I know – like Joel Pollak – to the most senior positions at Breitbart is an enemy of our people?
I met Bannon at Trump Tower. You can imagine that the guy is pretty busy right now. Still, when I asked to meet him about the incoming A\administration’s human rights agenda, he agreed immediately and was generous with his time. It was a great conversation. I found him stimulating, direct, focused, warm, and knowledgeable. As I left, I was astonished that this is the man who was being demonized.
I write for Breitbart, just as I write for the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, the Jerusalem Post, the New York Observer, and The Daily Beast. I have seen racist nut-jobs comment on my posts at each of those outlets. It’s not unique to Breitbart.
As to extremist rhetoric, some of the most anti-Israel screeds I have ever read have appeared in places like the Huffington Post, even as I consider my long-time friend Arianna Huffington an obvious and phenomenal friend of the Jewish people.
Or how about this? While President Obama called Elie Wiesel “the conscience of mankind,” a writer attacked the Nobel laureate as someone who “whitewash[es] Jewish behavior.” Imagine that. An outlet publishing an author who accuses the most respected Jew of the 20th century of serving as fig leaf for Jewish crimes.
The writer was Peter Beinart. The outlet that published his attack on Wiesel? The same outlet that published Sam’s attack on Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon: Ha’aretz.
Does that make Ha’aretz an antisemitic outlet? Let’s not be ridiculous. It just means that strident positions are pretty widespread these days.
Why isn’t Sam more concerned about all those who legitimized Iran and never once called them out for their repeated promises to visit a holocaust on Israel?
Has Sam condemned President Barack Obama for never once threatening to walk away from the nuclear negotiations with Iran unless its mullahs stopped promising to kill all the Jews? Did he criticize National Security Advisor Susan Rice for threatening Netanyahu not to give his speech to a joint session of Congress against Iran’s genocidal incitement, lest Bibi tear asunder the fabric of the America-Israel relationship?
Did he condemn my friend, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, for making an international reputation opposing genocide only to go to the UN and never once slam Iran for genocidal incitement against the Jews — or, for that matter, doing nothing to stop the genocide in Syria?
To my knowledge, he did not. And that’s OK. Not every writer is going to excel at identifying every threat.
But to be more concerned about the supposed threat posed by Steve Bannon — or, for that matter, Donald Trump, whom Sam also identifies incorrectly as an antisemite — than Iran’s genocidal plans against six million Jews living in Israel is not just wrong, but also dangerous.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published The Israel Warrior: Standing Up for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.