Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a pop-rabbi known less as a theologian than as an author of self-help books, a hanger-on of Michael Jackson, and a TV personality featured as an occasional guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This fellow, currently exploring the possibility of running as a Republican Congressional candidate in New Jersey, who bills himself as America's Rabbi, appeared on Sun TV's The Arena with Michael Coren yesterday.
Rabbi Shmuley, as he likes to be called, did the show to plug his new book, Kosher Jesus, which has gained some controversy in the orthodox Jewish community for describing Jesus and his teachings' close connection to Judaic traditions. There is absolutely nothing controversial about the conclusions Rabbi Shmuley reaches in his book. Robert Graves, the great war poet, classical scholar, and the extraordinary author of unforgettable novels like I Claudius, made identical assertions some sixty-six years ago, though in the form of historical fiction, in his book King Jesus.
Rabbi Shmuley's segment with Michael Coren did not go well. When discussing Jewish attitudes, Coren complained of the negative depictions that secular, leftist Jews attribute to conservative Christians. This set Rabbi Shmuley off and the conversation quickly degenerated into a shouting match, with Shmuley accusing Coren of dredging up anti-Semitic canards and Coren responding that words he did not say were being put in his mouth and that Shmuley was in effect in denial of historical fact and contemporary reality.
Within a few hours of taping the interview, before it was even broadcast later in the day, Shmuley Boteach, through his press agent, sent out an email blast accusing Coren of perpetrating a "disgusting slur, a tributary of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that the Jews control whole segments of society."
What to say about all of this? Well, I have a few things and I'm in a unique position to comment. Firstly, the idea of Michael Coren being anti-Semitic is patently absurd. I have known Michael for over a year, appeared on his television show about half a dozen times, spoken to him and corresponded with him on many other occasions. He is outspoken about and proud of his own Jewish heritage, which has made him the target of anti-Semitism from Islamists and fanatical leftists like those who skulk in online ideological cesspools such as rabble.ca.
What Michael said about secular leftist Jews and their contempt for conservative Christianity is something he has said to me about secular leftist Christians. Indeed he was much more harsh in his assessment of them. Perhaps Michael would have done well to bring that point up with Rabbi Shmuley, but given the heat of the exchange and the Rabbi's constant interruptions, that opportunity never arose.
Rabbi Shmuley seemed to take great issue with the contention by Coren that Jews are influential in Hollywood. I was a Strategic Planing and Creative Executive for a major Hollywood film production company and during my time with it was involved with a slate of films that were nominated for 14 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Documentary.
The fact is that there are a lot of Jews in very important positions in Hollywood. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the film industry knows it was virtually founded by Jews. This is not something to be ashamed of. Movies are the great American art form of the 20th Century and Jews should take pride in their role in its birth and life.
What is objectionable is to cast Jews in the fictional mold of a conspiratorial monolith who act in secret concert for some sinister end. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. No Hollywood executives are meeting and saying, "let's as Jews, trash Christianity." The fact is that most Hollywood Jews, like just about everyone else in Hollywood, are secular leftists and the philosophical and ideological outlook that comes with those attitudes is reflected in their work. Most Jews in the US also vote for the Democratic Party, but that hardly makes it part of a conspiracy.
But let's be clear, Coren was talking about secular Jews and their attitudes because his guest was a Jewish rabbi, in the same way he would have raised the subject of anti-western attitudes in leftist Christian churches if the Presbyterian Moderator had been his guest.
If Michael is guilty of anything, it may be of not articulating that better. But given the inflammatory exchange, it's hardly surprising he didn't get a chance.
Michael Coren is one of Canada's most ardent defenders of Zionism and the right of Jews to national self-determination. In less than a week, he will be a panelist at an event presented by The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization devoted to combating anti-Semitism. Not only is the calumnious accusation of anti-Semitism against Coren wrong, but it is a shameful disgrace and if Rabbi Shmuley has any sense, he will retract his self-serving publicity release and apologize.
UPDATE: The battle continues at the Huffington Post. It looks like both Michael and Shmuley are milking a lot of publicity out of this. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect a conspiracy (Oh, no!!! Now I'm an anti-Semite too!!!)