The world’s Jews are under dire threat around the world, and so is Israel. That was the message, in so many words, that emanated last night from Cooper Union’s Great Hall.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor held forth in Manhattan to a crowd of hundreds, though the hall was not filled to the brim and empty rows were visible. It was the latest event put on by Boteach, who has brought people like Elie Wiesel, Samantha Power and Sheldon Adelson to Cooper Union to warn about how Israel is under attack.
This event was billed as an address by Prosor on how to fight back against the “global demonization of the Jewish state.” The discussion, though, made little distinction between Israel and Jews worldwide, and did not address the occupation of Palestinian territories.
It came just days after a Danish gunman killed a guard outside a Copenhagen synagogue, and weeks after the attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher supermarket in Paris. The message Boteach and Prosor pushed resonated with much of the audience.
Those violent events have prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call on Jews around the world to emigrate to Israel. But the remarks have prompted intense controversy, and Prosor did not reaffirm them last night. Instead, he said Europe has a responsibility to protect Jews.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s typical bombast was a stark contrast to the Israeli ambassador’s subdued manner. But they were united in painting a dark picture of Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. as places that are hostile to Jews.
They directed their ire at targets ranging from Iran to radical Islam to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
“I heard [Abbas] at the United Nations both in 2012 and 2013, just to hear the speeches, it’s vile, it’s poisonous, there’s no bridging or looking at something,” said Prosor.
Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress on Iran did not take center stage, though Boteach did ask Prosor a question about it. The Israeli ambassador stayed away from the politics of it and instead ticked off a litany of Iranian sins–and threw in a racist joke for good measure about the Western-Iranian negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
“The problem is that the Iranians, until now, have lied consecutively for years. They’ve taken–they’re amazing negotiators. They’re not just carpet makers, they’re carpet weavers. They take every red line, they divide it into pink lines, and they press every pink line,” said Prosor.
Boteach was at his most animated when discussing how college campuses think of Israel.
“Campuses, universities–these are supposed to be higher bastions of learning, supposed to be ivory towers of academia,” said Boteach. “And yet we are seeing such an assault on campus, that it’s shocking.” Boteach’s comments were voiced hours before the student government of Stanford voted to recommend divestment from corporations linked to the Israeli occupation.
The rabbi has been locked into a bizarre dispute with Hillel and other pro-Israel advocates because, he thinks, Hillel does not do enough to fight for Israel on campus. Boteach says that the New York University chapter of Hillel did not promote his event with Prosor.
The dispute with Hillel was not addressed. But the Israeli ambassador responded to Boteach’s alarming message about campuses by attributing the hostility to Israel to youthful politics. He likened the uptick in global criticism of Israel to Chinese water-torture, where every drip of Israel criticism contributes to the larger goal of harming Israel.
“I look at it as maybe the biggest challenge Israel has today, which means that each and every one of the students is on the front line defending Israel,” he said.
Prosor added, at the prodding of Boteach, that Jewish students have an “obligation” to defend Israel, since it’s the nation-state of the Jewish people. That line drew a lot of applause.