‘Is there a liberal in the room?” One couldn’t help but wonder this while looking around the large ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Midtown last Thursday evening. It was filled with about 1,000 attendees of what could have been called “The Shmuley Boteach Show.” They were loudly cheering a succession of major conservative political figures outdoing each other in their support for Israel, condemnation of President Obama’s foreign policy, and giving voice to the fears about anti-Semitism at home and abroad.
The formal name of the event was The Third Annual Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala. But the host and center of attention was the 48-year-old peripatetic preacher who calls himself “America’s Rabbi.” And the theme of the evening, a fundraiser for Rabbi Boteach’s World Values Network, was, as he asserted in his opening keynote address, “‘Never Again’ must always mean never again.”
The specter and lessons of the Holocaust were ever-present, from the appearance of Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and special guest Jacqueline Van Maarsen, a childhood friend of Anne Frank, to Rabbi Boteach’s declaration that the world’s “appetite for Jewish blood is back.”
“They hate us because we affirm life,” he roared, and because Israel, with its democratic and humanistic values, “makes its neighbors look terrible.”
With billionaire businessman/philanthropist and backer of conservative candidates Sheldon Adelson on hand, the evening became a kind of audition for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a declared presidential aspirant, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential candidate. Both men criticized President Barack Obama for the proposed Iran nuclear deal and for his Mideast policies. Cruz appeared to be the crowd favorite, with a rousing campaign-style speech that envisioned a president in 2017 who instead of “boycotting” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will “stand” with him and Israel.
Christie said “our friends in Israel deserve better than what they’ve gotten in the last seven years from this White House.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, though a Democrat, was praised by Adelson, who introduced him as “a true hero” for his efforts to thwart the proposed Iran agreement. Menendez, who is under indictment on bribery charges, inferred that Obama is naïve in his dealings with Tehran. “Hope is a not a national security solution,” he asserted.
Also on hand was Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, a close friend of Rabbi Boteach since the diplomat was a student at Oxford University in England and active in the rabbi’s L’Chaim Society. Dermer warned that “we are returning to those dark days” of anti-Semitism.
That certainly seems to be true in Europe. But the fact that there appears to be little if any overt anti-Semitism directed at Adelson, a very public Jewish, Las Vegas-based billionaire outspoken on behalf of Israel and seeking to influence national elections here and in Israel, seems to prove anti-Semitism is not a major threat in the U.S. today.
The World Values Network dinner took place just a few days before a New York Times/CBS poll found that 46 percent of Americans favored a “complete overhaul” of how campaigns are financed in order to rid politics of big-money contributors like Adelson. He is reported to have spent nearly $100 million on candidates during the 2012 election season, with little success at the ballot box.