LOSING MY RELIGION

The Trump-Loving, Porn-Hating Rabbi Attacking Lorde

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who took out a full-page ad branding the pop star a ‘bigot,’ is a failed reality TV star and anti-porn crusader who served as Michael Jackson’s rabbi.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

On Christmas Eve, pop star Lorde backed out of plans to perform in Israel less than a week after announcing a concert date in Tel Aviv.

Lorde’s decision was in response to considerable backlash. In an opinion piece for The Spinoff, two fellow New Zealanders—one Jewish and one Palestinian—made personal appeals to the pop star, asking her to join an “artistic boycott” in protest of the Israeli government’s policies. “The weeks prior to your tour announcement have been a difficult time for Palestinians,” Justine Sachs and Nadia Abu-Shanab wrote. “In this context, a performance in Israel sends the wrong message. Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation. Such an effect cannot be undone by even the best intention and the best music.”

Citing Lorde’s progressive statements in support of the LGBTQ community, women and people of color, as well as her anti-Trump rhetoric, they continued, “We urge you to act in the spirit of progressive New Zealanders who came before you and continue their legacy. In 2017, Lorde, reignite the spirit of 1981 and show the world that New Zealanders are the progressive forward-thinking people we say we are. Please join the artistic boycott of Israel, cancel your Israeli tour dates and make a stand.”

On December 20, Lorde, who is only 21 years old, responded to The Spinoff piece on Twitter, writing, “Noted! Been speaking w many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me I am learning all the time too.” Just four days later she officially pulled out, explaining that, “I think the right decision at this time is to cancel the show.” She added, “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I had done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to a book a show in tel aviv, but I’m not too proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Boteach is infamous in his own right: a Hasidic would-be reality TV star and spiritual counsel to the stars who calls himself ‘America’s Rabbi.’

Of course, Lorde’s decision didn’t silence online backlash, and critiques of Lorde’s perceived pro-Israel position quickly gave way to cries of anti-Semitism and bigotry. The alt-right-adjacent actress Roseanne Barr led the social media charge, captioning a link about the cancellation with “boycott this bigot.” Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Itzhak Gerberg, publicly requested to meet with Lorde in person, writing, “By succumbing to the hateful agenda of the few who support #BDS you encourage animosity in the region. Music should unite not divide.” Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev also issued a statement addressing the pop sensation: “Lorde, I’m hoping you can be a ‘pure heroine,’ like the title of your first album. To be a heroine of pure culture, free from any foreign – and ridiculous – political considerations.”

One emerging convention of anti-Lorde criticism is a charge of hypocrisy; Amy Spiro from The Jerusalem Post wrote in a Twitter thread about the controversy that, “Since the singer announced two stops in Russia and one in Tel Aviv on Twitter last week, she was bombarded with calls for her to cancel the Israel show. Nobody seemed to have a problem with her concerts in Russia, that bastion of human rights.” Spiro also listed the many acts that have performed in Tel Aviv in recent memory, adding, “Despite active BDS efforts, there are few artists who have canceled already scheduled shows for Israel: in 2015 Lauryn Hill canceled a show, and in 2010 Elvis Costello did as well.”

But while backlash was inevitable no matter what Lorde did—just ask Radiohead—criticism quickly spiraled out of control courtesy of a full-page ad in The Washington Post. The ad boldly declared, “Lorde and New Zealand ignore Syria to attack Israel,” later insinuating that the pop singer is both a hypocrite and a bigot. “Lorde joined a global anti-Semitic boycott of Israel but will perform in Russia, despite Putin’s support for Assad’s genocide in Syria,” the text continued. “Sadly, New Zealand’s growing prejudice against the Jewish State seems to be trickling down to its youth.”

The ad concluded, “Let’s boycott the boycotter and tell Lorde and her fellow bigots that Jew-hatred has no place in the twenty-first century.”

So who bankrolled this bullying? The ad is attributed to The World Values Network and its executive director Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. According to The Guardian, The World Values Network is funded by Sheldon Adelson, the Trump-backing billionaire. But Boteach is infamous in his own right: a Hasidic would-be reality TV star and spiritual counsel to the stars who calls himself “America’s Rabbi.” In recent years, Boteach has emerged as a defender of Steve Bannon, a man who been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks himself. In fact Breitbart, which Bannon once called “a platform for the alt-right,” gave Boteach a platform for his anti-Lorde ramblings days before his ad ran in the Post.

In the December 29 Breitbart screed, Shmuley wrote, “When I was Michael Jackson’s rabbi, his strong feelings for the Jewish community meant he was even prepared to suffer professionally for his love of Israel and the Jewish people. In 1993, Michael went to Israel on his Dangerous Tour, where he performed for 160,000 fans in Tel Aviv…websites called for a boycott of Michael’s music, saying that he supported Israel’s ‘hated’ leader. Michael didn’t care. He loved Israel and the Jewish people and he was thrilled to meet Israel’s democratically elected leader. That’s why it’s so sad to see a pop star like Lorde going over to the dark side of bigotry and antisemitism at such a young age.”

His position as “Michael Jackson’s rabbi” is just one of Boteach’s dubious accomplishments. According to CNN, the rabbi and author was “known” to be a spiritual adviser to the pop legend beginning in 1999. While Boteach and Jackson eventually fell out, that didn’t stop the rabbi from doing media appearance after media appearance after Jackson’s death, hyping his book The Michael Jackson Tapes.

A 2009 Daily Beast article on the “media-savvy” Shmuley noted that Boteach “blogs, records daily podcasts, and, of course, has his own Facebook page and Web site, where he pawns his wares: books, Bobble-heads in his bearded and bespectacled likeness, and ‘I’m a Rabbi Shmuley Groupie!’ T-shirts.” The author and former Huffington Post contributor has written 31 books, including Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments and Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. Boteach is also a failed reality TV personality, having starred in TLC’s short-lived 2006 series Shalom in the Home.

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In addition to proselytizing from the pulpit of his various syndicated columns and media appearances, Boteach will occasionally take out full-page ads against specific targets.

In 2015, he used the tactic to charge then-national security adviser Susan Rice with a “pattern of callous disregard for genocide,” claiming that she was “blind” to genocide, “both the Jewish people’s and Rwanda’s.” Among the ad’s many critics was the head of the Anti-Defamation League, who insisted that the ad’s “spurious and perverse association of criticism of Israel’s prime minister with ignoring genocide not only poisons the discourse on a vital global security issue, it trivializes the horrific nature of genocide and the memory of its victims.”

According to the Times of Israel, the ad was condemned by the Orthodox Union, the Jewish Federations of North America, J Street, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement. Boteach later made halfhearted amends, saying, “The ad was criticized by Jewish organizations, which said that we had attacked you personally. That was not our intent. We hoped to focus on policy, and we failed.”

Boteach’s strange CV also includes a 2012 Republican congressional run and a friendship with Ted Cruz. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff reported in 2015 that Boteach had “given a fundraising boost to the Evangelical Christian Texan by introducing him to potential backers in the New York and Los Angeles Jewish communities,” including Sheldon Adelson. Boteach described Cruz as “a phenomenal friend of Israel” and “a lot of fun.”

But it wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that Boteach managed to combine his love of controversy and C-list celebrity friendship to maximum effect, partnering with Pamela Anderson on a bizarre anti-porn campaign.

Addressing the perceived scourge of pornography “from our respective positions of rabbi-counselor and former Playboy model and actress,” Boteach and Anderson penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed condemning “pornography’s corrosive effects on a man’s soul and on his ability to function as husband and, by extension, as father.” The shockingly conservative, heteronormative and anti-feminist opinion piece (at least, shocking for Anderson) alleged that, “The ubiquity of porn is an outgrowth of the sexual revolution that began a half-century ago and which, with gender rights and freedoms now having been established, has arguably run its course,” before bemoaning the screwed up sex drives of porn-obsessed dudes and melodramatically mourning “The crack babies of porn.”

For Boteach’s latest opinions, anti-Lorde and otherwise, you can look to Breitbart, alleged hotbed of anti-Semitism, where “America’s Rabbi” can be found celebrating Trump’s “emergence as a great champion of the Jewish people” and bashing Obama.

Or don’t.