Boteach’s Battle Royale

Celebrity rabbi threatens to sue Jewish Daily Forward newspaper

May 9, 2012

Republican congressional candidate Shmuley Boteach is threatening to sue a major Jewish newspaper for running a "libelous" and "utterly untrue" article that accused him of improperly using his internationally celebrated charity as a personal ATM.

Boteach, a well-known author and Orthodox spiritual leader, told the Free Beacon that a recent article in the Forward newspaper, which raised questions about disbursements made by his charity, amounted to "defamation."

Lawyers representing the rabbi have sent the newspaper a letter decrying what they claim is its defamatory and false coverage, the Free Beacon has learned, marking the first signs of a possible lawsuit.

The Forward’s biased reporting on Boteach comports with a longstanding practice of antagonizing and mischaracterizing all those who do not toe the liberal line, media operatives and Jewish insiders allege.

"If you’re a Republican or a conservative, and the phone rings and someone tells you the Forward is calling, you know it’s a hit piece and you better get ready," said one Jewish Republican media operative who has worked with the paper. "The clear liberal bias in their reporting is not news to anyone who reads it."

Forward writer Josh Nathan-Kazis broadly speculates about a "future conflict between the group’s role supporting Boteach’s work and Boteach’s political campaign" in his article on Boteach’s charity, This World: The Jewish Values Network.

The writer further insinuates that Boteach and his charity could run into legal problems as his congressional campaign in New Jersey unfolds.

Boteach maintains the accusations of impropriety are flatly untrue.

"The Forward hates right-wing political figures and were kind to me till I announced I’m running" for office as a Republican, he said, dismissing the article as "libelous, utterly untrue, and close to defamation."

Criticizing Nathan-Kazis as grossly uninformed, Boteach added that the Forward is "not a publication I respect."

A letter sent to the Forward by New York attorney Robert Wolf accuses the paper of publishing a "materially false" article intended to sabotage the rabbi’s nascent political career.

"The article was materially false or misleading in that it suggested some sort of impropriety in connection with Rabbi Boteach’s compensation," the letter states. "The JVN believes that the article … was not fair or impartial, but, through innuendo, questionable reporting, and juxtaposition of quotation, misreported and intentionally sought to damage the reputations of JVN and Rabbi Boteach."

Nathan-Kazis alleges in the article that the charity "spends a significant portion of its revenues on payments to Boteach and his family," while downplaying the fact that Boteach and his family perform the majority of the work to maintain the organization.

Nathan-Kazis also does not mention that an independent board of directors determines matters of compensation. Boteach does not have final say over disbursements.

"The fact that neither Rabbi Boteach nor any member of his family is on the board is reflected in JVN’s public filings, but is nowhere mentioned in your article," the legal letter states.

Boteach is the charity’s principal player, shouldering the bulk of its duties, yet the Forward insinuates that the rabbi is paid an excessive sum.

"Rabbi Boteach’s invaluable assistance and hard work in all of these areas are the primary means by which the JVN promotes its mission, and a communication from the board to your reporter, prior to the March 2 article, reflected these facts," the legal correspondence states. "Accordingly, the ‘smoking gun’ revelation that his compensation constituted a proportionately high percentage of the organization’s overall expenses is, quite simply, baseless and no revelation at all."

The letter further reveals that "the reporter of your misleading article" has attempted to contact current and former JVN employees for a follow up piece— efforts that could cause the Forward legal woes.

Because JVN employees sign a non-disclosure clause, conversations with the paper could merit a breach of contract. Consequently, the paper could "be held liable for damages and other relief to the fullest extent permitted by the law," the letter states.

The lawyer also notes that the Forward could be endangering its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status by waging a politically motivated attack.

"The Forward has a clear obligation to address the foregoing matters objectively and fairly, and not in the type of partisan manner that could jeopardize the Forward’s own tax-exempt status," it states.

The Forward is then instructed by Boteach’s lawyer to immediately cease its destructive and "highly libelous" reporting.

Forward editor Jane Eisner did not respond to a request for comment.

Eisner claims that the article about JVN was the result of a meeting she held with her own tax attorneys, according to a private e-mail obtained by the Free Beacon.

"I asked [reporter] Josh to look into the question of your charity’s 501(c)(3) status after a two-hour session with our tax attorneys on Monday, in which they advised us about our own roles in covering elections, since the Forward is also a 501(c)(3)," Eisner wrote to one of Boteach’s associates. "That explains the line of questioning. Nothing else."

This is not the first time the Forward has published articles that are highly critical of right-of-center figures.

Jewish media insiders maintain that, while the Jewish paper has historically tilted left, Eisner—who became editor in 2008—has turned the Forward into a reliable liberal attack dog.

"I’m sure their highest circulation is in the Beinart household," said the unnamed media operative, referring to liberal author Peter Beinart.

The paper’s marketing department attempted to bully the rabbi in the weeks leading up to the disputed article, and Eisner tried to garner payment for an appearance at an event with Boteach by playing the gender card, other e-mails obtained by the Free Beacon reveal.

Eisner recently moderated a discussion at a book launch party for Boteach. That event was used as fodder in the Forward’s article, which stated that the rabbi might have violated campaign laws by mentioning his political candidacy "while seated in front of a banner bearing the name of his organization."

Leading up to the book party, Eisner complained that the event was poorly run and attempted to garner payment for her appearance, even though the other speakers had agreed to appear pro bono.

"I’m a skilled moderator," she said of herself in an e-mail sent to one of Boteach’s associates, "and I’ve never been thrown into a situation like this."

"We have also repeatedly asked whether the other panelists are receiving an honorarium," Eisner wrote. "If they are, I should receive the same amount. I’m sure that you don’t want the only woman on the program to be the only one unpaid!"

Meanwhile, the Forward’s advertising department attempted to bully Boteach for requesting that it help promote the event free of charge.

"You’ve requested a guarantee of editorial exposure, which can’t be honored since our journalism is independent and is not available as part of a quid pro quo," wrote Bob Goldfarb, the paper’s director of marketing and audience development.

"Secondly, the cash value of the ads and email blasts you propose is around $25,000, for which you have offered credits in PR materials in exchange," Goldfarb dismissively added. "Such minor PR exposure is of little value to the Forward."

Boteach labeled the figure of $25,000 as "absurd" and said that it is normal for newspapers to help promote events at which their brand will be featured.