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9 Days Left: Till Sean Penn Accepts “Humanitarian” Award from Sheldon Adelson, Shmuley Boteach

sean penn shmuley boteach gala

Sean Penn is featured at this gala for Shmuley Boteach’s organization

On May 18th, only nine days from today, Sean Penn will accept a ‘humanitarian’ award from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s This World: The Values Network at Cipriani’s in New York.  I wrote a post about this some time ago and hoped I could organize a Sodastream-Johansson type protest.  Despite outreach to a number of Israeli and Palestinian activists, I haven’t yet been able to gain traction with this (yet).  I’ve reached out to a few people who know Penn asking for their assistance and I’ve contacted his publicist.  There doesn’t seem to have been any response.  But I’m hoping that all who read this will sign the Change.org petition (100 signatures since starting it last night!) and join the Facebook group to make your sorrow and protest known.  Encourage others to do so as well.

Sean Penn, possibly hoping for some of Sheldon Adelson’s lucre to rain down on his laudable Haiti relief charity, is selling his values and soul to the devil.  Sheldon Adelson is the antithesis of a humanist or humanitarian.  He is a narrow pro-Israel nationalist.  He has corrupted the American political process with over $100 million in donations in the past presidential election alone.  He has ensured a Likudist political majority for a generation through his purchase of Yisrael HaYom on Bibi’s behalf.

Not to mention the gambling addictions worldwide which Adelson’s gaming dens in Las Vegas and Macau feed.  Further, he’s been accused by former senior executives of permitting prostitution in his Chinese properties for the highest of the high rollers.

While many of us have great admiration for Penn’s film career and his humanitarian efforts, what does it say about him and his judgment that he would link up not just with Adelson and Boteach, but a whole slew of pro-Israel, GOP, Christian evangelical fundamentalists like Israel’s ambassador Ron Dermer, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Cory Booker?

I’ve drafted this letter which outlines the reasons he should run as far away from this event as fast as his legs will carry him:

Dear Mr. Penn,I write to you on behalf of a coalition of Israeli, Palestinian and American Jewish activists who are concerned by the news that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach will be hosting a human rights event next month.

While we applaud your extraordinary humanitarian relief work in Haiti, and your steadfast support of the people’s movement in Venezuela. The courage you’ve shown in speaking up for the downtrodden and dispossessed has been a beacon for all of us in the human rights community.

We also commend you for the difficult, dangerous feat of freeing Jacob Ostreicher from unjust imprisonment in Bolivia. There is no doubt in my mind that you deserve the award Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has announced he will bestow on you this May, at a dinner honoring you and other political leaders.

However, we feel compelled to offer some context and background about those with whom you will be associated should you attend this event. Shmuley Boteach is the self-described “most popular rabbi in America.” He ran unsuccessfully as the GOP candidate for a New Jersey Congressional seat in the last election. He is closely identified with some of America’s most right-wing, Islamophobic Jews. One of his major financial supporters is Sheldon Adelson. At an event Boteach hosted several months ago, Adelson called for the U.S. to drop a nuclear weapon on Iran.[1] He has denied the existence of the Palestinian people and makes no bones about the fact that he wants his political donations to make American Middle East policy in his image. To that end, he donated well over $100-million to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the largest individual political donation in U.S. history.[2] The pernicious impact of his money in U.S. elections proves single-handedly the damage done by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Tom Friedman published a column in this week’s New York Times calling the casino magnate a “swaggering oligarch.[3]” Other independent journalists like Peter Beinart joined with similar criticism in the pages of Israel’s liberal Haaretz.[4]

Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands gambling conglomerate, which has fought union recognition tooth and nail among its employees. His company is also embroiled in litigation around the world, including one suit in which a former employee accuses him of personally approving the procuring prostitutes for customers at its Macau resort.[5]

Among your fellow honorees at the May dinner will be Texas Gov. Rick Perry. A former, and possibly future Republican presidential candidate. Perry is also a fervent Christian evangelical who views America as a Christian nation.

Another honoree will be Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer. Dermer is one of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s closest political advisers and a strong proponent of the far-right views of the ruling Likud party, which oppose nuclear negotiations with Iran and a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wall Street Journal columnist, Brett Stephens, who espouses far-right neoconservative views, rounds out the honoree roster.

Shmuley Boteach is no doubt a decent human being with strong humanitarian values. But he has placed you in a situation in which you will be associated with individuals whose views are diametrically opposite yours. The publicity he has already generated by using your name in articles in the American Jewish press will support his own Republican and pro-Israel political agenda.[6][7][8]

We believe, as we hope you do, that human rights must be above partisan politics. If it is not, it loses its credibility. We fear that your association with Boteach will advance his political goals, but potentially damage yours.

If you must accept this award, we urge you to do it in a non-political, non-partisan context. Do not allow yourself to be prominently associated with such far-right ideologues. We hope to hear from you and to engage in a dialogue about this matter before the dinner.

In solidarity, peace and justice,


[1] Adelson Suggests U.S. Nuclear Strike on Iran Ahead of Negotiations, Robert Mackey, New York Times, October 23 2013[2] How Much Did Sheldon Adelson Really Spend on Campaign 2012? ProPublica, Theodoric Meyer, December 20 2012.

[3] Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend, Tom Friedman, New York Times, April 5, 2014

[4] Sheldon Adelson’s Culture of Hate, Peter Beinart, Haaretz, April 2, 2014

[5] A Former Sands Exec Has Accused Sheldon Adelson Of Personally Approving Prostitution At His Macau Resorts, Business Insider, June 28 2012

[6] Rabbi Shmuley: A Jewish Group Honors Sean Penn, New York Observer, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, February 28 2014

[7] Boteach: Sean Penn’s Humanity is Worth Celebrating (INTERVIEW), The Algemeiner, February 11 2014

[8] Sean Penn & Other Heroes, Aish.com, Marnie Winston-Macauley

Lest we not know enough about Boteach’s political background, he ran as a GOP candidate for the U.S. House and lost.  He also danced the hora with settlers in Hebron, a hotbed of the most extreme of the extremist settlers squatting on Palestinian lands.  Hebron is redolent of Judean spit and hate, as these pictures make evident.  It is about just such people that Boteach wrote this mendacious, puff-piece for settlerism in HuffPo, entitled A Spiritual Night in Hebron:

Israel is a magical country, but to experience one of its greatest wonders you have to travel out to what the world calls the West Bank and the Bible calls Judea and Samaria. There, its crown jewel is the city of Hebron…

The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom the world derisively describes as settlers — as if Jews living in their own ancient capital are newcomers — is their warmth, friendliness and hospitality.

…The residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid. They are also liberated from hatred. When their friends die — as did the four two weeks ago — they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them, and get on with their lives. There are no calls for revenge attacks, there are no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay.

…It is not the spiritual-seeking settlers who threaten the peace, but rather the murderous groups of Hezbollah and Hamas, who wish to make all of Israel judenrein.

…It is a sad commentary on some of my Arab brothers and sisters who live in Hebron that soldiers should be needed to protect children at playgrounds. Yet the soldiers have no rancor in their heart. Indeed, many of them were telling me how they never wish to make the Arab population feel intimidated by their presence and are given strict orders never to appear overbearing. Their mission is not to enforce an Israeli hegemony but to simply stop Jews from being targets.

…The next time you’re in Israel, come and immerse yourself in the city chosen by Abraham as the eternal resting place for a wife he so loved to forever rest in peace.

Sean Penn: don’t break bread with Shmuley Boteach and Sheldon Adelson.  They’ll exploit your Hollywood celebrity for their own political purposes and all you’ll get in return are 30 pieces of Sands silver.



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