Political campaigns draw grifters like moths to a flame. The fact that money sloshes around so freely attracts hustlers who promise to reward the candidate with access to special groups and in return get favors if the politician does win the office that is sought, and in addition use their proximity and presumed closeness to prominent political candidates to enrich themselves by peddling influence.
One of the people who has made this kind of grifting into an art form is Shmuley Boteach, a man who styles himself as ‘America’s rabbi’ and ‘the most famous rabbi in America’, which itself should be a warning sign of a man on the make. So it should be no surprise that he has wormed his way into Donald Trump’s camp.
Boteach may be familiar to some already because he is a familiar figure in the world of influence peddlers. His main target of promotion is himself, followed closely by supporting extreme right-wing policies of the Israeli government. He considered himself a mentor on Israel to New Jersey senator Cory Booker (no slouch when it comes to self-promotion either) but Booker disappointed him by supporting the nuclear deal that the US and the rest of the P5+1 nations made with Iran.
Rob Bryan has written an exhaustive profile of Boteach and his hustling.
A man of many hustles, he has inserted himself as political liaison to far-right pro-Israel casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, close confidante of Senator Ted Cruz, spiritual guide to Michael Jackson, pal of Oprah Winfrey, soulmate of Eli Wiesel, buddy of Senator Cory Booker, star of his own reality TV show, and bestselling self-help author of Kosher Sex. This month Boteach scrambled between a meeting with Donald Trump, whose candidacy for president he recently endorsed, and a ritzy gala for his own organization, thrown on the solemn Holocaust Memorial Day, at which he bestowed special honors on the former “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson and Yoko Ono, among other dignitaries.
By insinuating himself into the company of Trump’s family, Boteach has appointed himself Trump’s top Jewish surrogate. In the campaign ahead, his job will likely consist of applying the kosher stamp to a candidate who enjoys enthusiastic support from leading neo-Nazis including Matthew Heimbach and David Duke, has personally promoted screeds by white nationalists, and recently included an open white supremacist on his California delegate list. “There’s a certain irony in Sheldon Adelson backing Trump, who’s so beloved by raving antisemites,” Mark Potok, the Southern Poverty Law Center director said of the ultra-Zionist casino mogul who has pledged to donate $100 million to Trump’s campaign, and who also donates to Shmuley’s ventures.
But Boteach has critics among Jewish leaders who have questioned his religious credentials and his tendency to act as if he was speaking on behalf of American Jewry.
But almost as quickly as he found new ways to influence people, Boteach has managed to alienate the friends who brought him his mainstream cachet. Most importantly, two of the leading Jewish religious authorities in the world, including his own teacher and rabbi, have effectively challenged his rabbinical credentials. The former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sacks, banned Boteach in 1999 from speaking at his West End Synagogue because of financial misconduct at Boteach’s London-based charity, while Rabbi Ezra Schochet, who was Boteach’s religious mentor at a Los Angeles Chabad Lubavitcher yeshiva, has proclaimed, “It is totally prohibited and unacceptable for Orthodox Jews to hear someone like Boteach speak, since his views on many issues are against Torah and Halacha (Jewish law).” To the rabbis, Boteach should hardly be considered a rabbi.
Boteach has drifted to the Likudnik right-wing, cultivating relationships with oligarchs and power players like Adelson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson and other Boteach donors have funded his vitriol, such as accusing Obama’s former National Security Advisor Susan Rice of supporting genocide in a hysterical full-page New York Times ad in May 2015. The American Jewish Committee called Boteach’s ad “revolting,” while the Anti-Defamation League labeled it “spurious and perverse.”
With Adelson pledging to contribute heavily to Trump’s campaign, Boteach, who is financed by the eccentric billionaire, is burrowing into Trump’s inner circle. Boteach the “rabbi” and Donald the tycoon have more in common than might seem obvious. Both are dogged by allegations of financial corruption, and both have earned notoriety in the world of reality show television while moving into politics to further their celebrity. At every step, they have faithfully adhered to the dictum Boteach described as his personal Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition.”
Supporting the dictum that the apple does not fall far from the tree, Bryan exposes Boteach’s disturbing family background in dubious business ventures and the financial world that Boteach has himself created, showing that he is as good at using the wide latitude given by the government to religious groups to enrich himself using the tax-exempt loopholes as any Christian megachurch hustler, using money supposedly raised for charitable purposes to finance his lavish personal lifestyle.
There is a lot more about Boteach’s dubious activities in Bryan’s exhaustive analysis. Expect to see more of Boteach as he provides cover for Trump, to shield him from criticisms for the strong support Trump has received from neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups.