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Sparks fly: Rabbi Shmuley Debates Peter Beinart Over Israel Boycott Movement

TEL AVIV – In a debate about Israel’s future, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the so-called peace process, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach locked horns with American Jewish author Peter Beinart in Tel Aviv on Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah.  

Much of the debate, which was organized by the Tel Aviv International Salon, Globes Business Conference, and StandWithUs, contained references to the Hanukkah story, including overt comparisons of the Maccabees to the IDF.

Boteach, author of such titles as Kosher Sex and Kosher Jesus, represented the conservative side of the debate. He said that being a Maccabee was “a proud honor,” and labeled IDF soldiers and pro-Israel activists as modern-day Maccabees.

Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism and a professor at CUNY, claimed that the Maccabean victory could not last because of internal corruption, which, he posited, is not dissimilar to the corruption of modern-day Israel vis-à-vis its treatment of the Palestinians.

Beinart, who calls himself an avid Zionist, justified the boycott of goods produced in Jewish settlements and said that the only path to a viable peace was Palestinian statehood. Boteach argued that the motivations behind the BDS movement have nothing to do with Palestinian statehood and everything to do with anti-Semitism.

“The [leaders of the BDS movement] have no interest in Palestinian rights,” Boteach said. “They have an interest in the economic destruction of the State of Israel.”

Boteach asked Beinart why he still chose to use an iPhone – a Chinese-manufactured phone – despite China’s occupation of Tibet. Beinart admitted that he cares more about Israel’s morality than other nations. Boteach later tweeted  that Beinart’s hypocrisy in refusing to boycott other occupying nations was the highlight of the debate for him, as it showed that human rights abuses only bother Beinart when Jews are purportedly the culprits.

At one point during the debate, Beinart compared Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson to the Iranian regime, and quoted Adelson as having said that Israel would be better off bombing the country. Boteach was fiery in his response, accusing Beinart of crossing the line and claiming that the Adelson quote was an outright lie – one that Beinart had used in the past at a Columbia University debate.

Boteach reprimanded his opponent for being more disturbed by his “Jewish conscience” than by the lack of democracy and moral fiber in the Palestinian leadership. 

“Israel doesn’t exist to make you feel better about yourself,” Boteach told Beinart.

When discussing the current wave of Palestinian terror against Israelis, Beinart explained, “You have a younger generation of Palestinians that believe they have nothing to lose. If we want to defeat Hamas and we want to defeat those people who are committing these terrible, terrible acts around Israel, we have to show the Palestinians that there is a nonviolent way of achieving the basic rights that we would want for ourselves.”

For his part, Boteach slammed his opponent’s attempts to justify terror, claiming that Beinart was guilty of “blaming the victim” and “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He also said that Beinart contradicted himself by saying that on the one hand there is no justification for terrorism, while on the other we need to understand the reasons behind terrorism. 

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