After Natalie Portman pulled out of an award ceremony in Israel, right-wing activist Rabbi Shmuley Boteach bought a full-page New York Times ad to attack the actress. Journalist Max Blumenthal details how billionaire Sheldon Adelson bankrolls Shmuley’s World Values Network and conservative activism.
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News. I’m Ben Norton. The Israeli government and right-wing pro-Israel activists have viciously attacked Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman in the past few weeks after the celebrity refused to attend a prominent awards ceremony in Israel. Portman said she did not want to attend the ceremony for the Genesis Prize, which has been described as the Jewish Nobel Prize, because she did not want her speech to seem like an endorsement of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Portman also said, quote: “The mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values,” end quote. This was clearly a reference to the Israeli military’s massacre of unarmed Palestinian protesters inside Gaza. In response, a lawmaker from Israel’s ruling party Likud called for Natalie Portman to be stripped of her Israeli citizenship. A minister from the Israeli government went so far as to claim, quote: “Natalie Portman’s actions border on anti-Semitism.”
Here in the U.S., the right-wing pro-Israel activist Rabbi Shmuley took out a full ad in The New York Times on Saturday, April 28. He harshly condemned the actress and accused her of hypocrisy. Shmuley’s right-wing political activism, and specifically his group the World Values Network, is bankrolled by the casino oligarch and billionaire GOP donor Sheldon Adelson. This New York Times ad cost $50000, and Shmuley set up a GoFundMe account to try to crowdfund money for the ad, yet only, yet he only raised $600 out of his $50000 goal.
Joining us to discuss this is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books, including his forthcoming book, “The Management of Savagery,” which will be published later this year. Max is also the editor and founder of the investigative journalism project Grayzone Project, which can be found at Grayzone.com. Thanks for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be with you.
BEN NORTON: So there’s a lot to talk about here with Natalie Portman, the rise of these liberal Zionist activists or celebrities who are speaking out against the Israeli government. But let’s first start talking about Rabbi Shmuley, and specifically the ad that got in the New York Times. This ad cost $50000 dollars, and was paid for by his group, The World Values Network, and we know that in 2016 his group received $1 million from the Adelson Family Foundation. Can you comment further?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I would just start by directing anyone who’s interested in understanding what a charlatan and a fraudmeister Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is to our excellent investigative profile by Rob Ryan, which was published at the Grayzone Project in 2016. You can easily just find it through any search engine. And that will explain to you how, it will outline for you how Rabbi Shmuley ‘ s own religious instructors in the Chabad ultra-Orthodox movement have issued basically an edict declaring that it is illegal, it is against Jewish law, to listen to Rabbi Shmuley speak. They declared him to be such a fraud that it is illegal, theologically, to listen to him speak.
So his own rabbinical teachers have basically declared him to not be a rabbi. Part of that had to do with his support for the Jews for Jesus movement, and things he wrote in his book about Jesus. Shmuley’s basically been a self-promoter who emerged claiming that he was Michael Jackson’s spiritual mentor. He kind of cashed in after Michael Jackson’s death. He was close to Oprah, did a reality show called Shalom in the Home, where he counseled Gentile couples on overcoming their marital woes. I can’t imagine what it’s like being in a relationship with a figure like this, who is so hell bent on destroying anyone who disagrees with Benjamin Netanyahu. But you know, it all depends on who’s buttering Shmuley’s bread. In this case Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who’s also been a benefactor to Netanyahu, pumped millions into Shmuley’s World Values operation, pays for these elaborate galas where, you know, Pamela Anderson recently appeared.
Elie Wiesel is someone that Shmuley was financially sort of serving as a financial conduit for. And then he used Elie Wiesel as Wiesel was really not, didn’t appear to be totally in control of his mental faculties, used him in a full-page ad during Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014 to declare that Palestinian mothers were practicing ritual child sacrifice, essentially throwing their children at Israeli missiles because 550 children had been slaughtered by Israel. Shmuley then took out a full page ad on me during the campaign. Adelson was supporting Donald Trump and the Trump campaign, wanted to kind of make an issue out of me having this same connection to Hillary Clinton. The ad painted me as Hillary Clinton’s secret Middle East adviser. And you know, if only it were true, Hillary might have actually won. No.
I mean, it’s just such an absurd ad. But it appeared in a full page in The New York Times, and Shmuley ran a national campaign to try to connect me to Hillary Clinton. It resulted in my name trending for two days on Facebook. I don’t know how much damage it did to Hillary, but my point is that Shmuley is just this vicious attack dog for the Israeli government. And the GoFundMe campaign that he took out to attack me raised something like $300 bucks, and then a mysterious donor came in and paid for the full-page ad. So you just see that same kind of strategy being used against Natalie Portman, who is, I’d say, a figure of much higher stature than me.
BEN NORTON: What do you think it says that we have someone, like you said, as notorious as Rabbi Shmuley, who is so clearly associated with the right wing, not just here in the U.S., but the far-right wing inside Israel, now that he is directing his energy at attacking one of the most prominent liberal Zionists, Natalie Portman, who was herself born in Israel, has been a staunch defender of Israel, and has only recently started speaking out?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I think Natalie Portman was the research, was at one point a research assistant for Alan Dershowitz, the pro-Israel super lawyer who is also n Shmuley’s Likudnik network right now, and has emerged as Donald Trump’s kind of de facto lawyer in the media. So it’s very significant that Natalie Portman has sort of taken a stand against Netanyahu’s Israel. We have to emphasize it’s not Israel or Zionism she’s taking a stand against, it’s Netanyahu’s Israel.
A lot of American liberal Jews who don’t take my anti-Zionist position and don’t really want to see the ideological roots of the crisis, and see it more as a kind of a political problem at the top are moving away from Israel. They’re disgusted with Netanyahu. They see him as a Republican who is very similar to Donald Trump, and authoritarian, and they’re correct in that regard. And so they’re repelled. They’re also repelled by human rights abuses like we’re seeing on the Israeli-Gaza border where so far 50 mostly unarmed protesters have been killed by Israeli snipers in a really gruesome fashion, including journalists and children.
And the real Israel is finally being exposed for American eyes, despite the whitewashing of the New York Times and mainstream media. That was kind of the, you know, project that I embarked on when I wrote my book Goliath and published it in 2013, and subsequently published a book on Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014. And it’s really to show Americans, and particularly liberal American Jews the real Israel that they didn’t know. And so Natalie Portman really reflects, I think, the progression of the Palestine solidarity movement, the education campaign that BDS represents, and the progression of the right wing as it marches through Israeli institutions and takes control of the state of Israel. It’s essentially now a settler state that doesn’t really have a place for the so-called enlightened public that Natalie Portman identifies with. And so while she declared that, you know, she’s not against Israel, she’s just against Netanyahu, I think this incident is a really good point of examination and reflection for liberal Zionists, because the right wing in Israel isn’t going away, it’s not stepping down, it’s not going to be defeated. And Natalie Portman is going to have to start looking at the real roots of this crisis, which lay in Zionism.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and then finally, Natalie Portman said in her response, which is characteristic of this liberal Zionist view, that she’s not boycotting the award ceremony as an act of the BDS, Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Rather, she said, it was just an act of boycott against Netanyahu himself. What do you think about that response, and and what does her use of a boycott say about the efficacy of the tactic of the boycott overall?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, just, you know, having grown up in Washington as, in a very liberal Jewish community, there was a lot of quiet rumbling about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. You know, knowing, I knew people who worked in the State Department or who would, you know, be in think tanks in the sort of nonprofit world in Washington who are disgusted with what Israel was doing. But they were afraid to say anything about it. They were afraid to be labeled anti-Semites. They were afraid to be, to lose their career. They were afraid of causing problems within their own families.
And I think what Natalie Portman shows is that this fear really isn’t there anymore. And the main attack dog who has been sicced on her is a complete clown who’s largely discredited in American Jewish life. And so, you know, this has been really an emblematic episode that I think should be encouraging to people who would like to see a more open discussion on Israel at a debate and serious political pressure. You know, look, we’re going to see, I think, in the 2020 campaign Israel become kind of a wedge issue in the Democratic primary. So far only one candidate has broken from the pro-Israel consensus in Washington. That’s Bernie Sanders, and he is someone who hasn’t been very critical of Israel throughout his career. This is a recent trend in his rhetoric, and it reflects him responding to his constituents, particularly his younger constituents, and especially his Jewish constituents. We’re also witnessing Jewish Voice for Peace and organizations that are embracing BDS from a Jewish perspective, being forced, becoming forces to be reckoned with. So there’s going to be more Natalie Portmans in the future.
And finally, from a public relations standpoint, it was just a bad look for her to accept this award. The Genesis Prize is a million-dollar award that’s granted by a small group of Russian Jewish oligarchs close to Netanyahu. And it simply looks like a bribe to support Israel, something an up-and-coming actor and cultural figure like Natalie Portman wanted nothing to do with. And she was actually their second choice after Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who they decided not to give an award to because it would embarrass Donald Trump.
BEN NORTON: Well, we’ll have to end it there, unfortunately. But thanks for joining us. Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of several books. He is also the editor and founder of the Grayzone Project, which you can find at GrayzoneProject.com. Thanks for joining us on The Real News, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.