Secret NYPD Documents Reveal Investigation Into Boteach Death Threats
Rabbi says he wishes he’d been told about the danger after Kahane Chai activists posted online attacks in 2008
In the meantime, investigators searching online for traces of Kahane Chai came across the threats against Boteach. Other evidence listed in the preliminary inquiry includes a YouTube video in which Shelley Rubin, the head of the Jewish Defense League, exhorted American Jews to arm themselves. “Buy weapons now,” she is quoted as saying—nothing more or less incendiary than comments that were made at the time by many groups across the American right. The fact that the threats came from a group deemed outlaw by both the American and Israeli governments likely gave them more weight, lawyers said. “It would be irresponsible not to follow that up, particularly when it’s coming from an organization that the Treasury Department has designated as a terrorist organization,” said Jethro Eisenstein, a civil rights attorney who has devoted 40 years to monitoring the NYPD’s investigations of First Amendment-protected speech and activities.
But while they used the threats against Boteach to justify their investigation, the NYPD appears not to have taken them seriously enough to warn the rabbi. “The one useful thing that could have been done, that of course wasn’t done,” Eisenstein said, “was to give Shmuley Boteach a heads up.”
Boteach clarified that he wasn’t out to criticize the NYPD. “These are professionals, and I trust in their professionalism. I’m assuming they probably didn’t want to worry me or make more of it than it probably was,” he said. “I don’t know what their thinking was. In some ways, it’s even a little bit comforting that I find out about it now when perhaps the danger has passed. I don’t know. I mean, are these people still at large? Are they making threats? It’s not as if my public posture that would have irritated them has changed so I would suddenly be off their radar screen.”
Indeed, Boteach noted, he had taken Oz to Hebron, to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where Baruch Goldstein—a Kahane activist—massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers during Ramadan in 1994. “I called him a moral abomination the next morning and, even so, my house was firebombed at Oxford,” Boteach said. “That was the first time we had a serious threat.”
Later, he said, he was targeted because of his public friendship with Al Sharpton, which prompted his enemies to declare him a “traitor” to the Jewish people. “Coming from a Jewish source, it’s even more disappointing because we all want to believe this idea of the oneness of the Jewish community, the Jewish people and that we also want to believe these extremist elements do not inhabit our community to the same extent,” Boteach said. “I don’t believe they do. But when it’s brought so close to home, it’s very disconcerting.”
Boteach was critical of the NYPD’s broad-based surveillance of Muslims, which extended into New Jersey. The congressional district he ran for in 2012, he told me, was the second-most-Muslim district in America, after the one in Dearborn, Mich. “No one has any right to impugn the character of patriotic Americans,” he insisted. “America has no religion. A Muslim American is as American as George Washington. If you don’t believe that then you’re undermining the very foundation of the republic.” He brought up the Japanese internment during WWII and NSA spying. “The surveillance that’s being done now, it’s all very uncomfortable,” he said. “Who the heck wants people listening to our phone conversations?”
And yet, seeing his name in the secret NYPD files gave him pause. “Obviously I’m a little subjective now having seen this,” he said. “Once people start making death threats, saying that someone should be shot or killed, which is just utterly unacceptable, then they’re inviting themselves to monitoring because they are speaking very violently. You’re basically saying we’re not to be trusted. Well, if you’re not to be trusted, you’re not to be trusted. They’re asking for it.”
Read the NYPD document here.
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