Statement in response to Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s Comments in the Forward on December 31

January 5, 2009

J Street takes serious issue with Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s op-ed in the December 31st Forward, in which he attacks us for questioning the wisdom of the Gaza assault.

Our position on the crisis reflects our support for Israel, our hope
for its security and our sympathy with the ongoing suffering of the
people on both sides in this conflict. It is hard for us to understand
how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to
articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues “morally
deficient.” If our views are “naïve” and “morally deficient”, then so
are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts,
distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same
questions about the Gaza attack as we have. Read the rest of the statement.

And, when tens of thousands of pro-Israel American Jews are joining
with statements made by J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek,
Israel Policy Forum and others calling for a ceasefire – it is simply
wrong to call these views out of touch with Jewish sentiment.

American Jews are, as Rabbi Yoffie says, by and large sensible and
centrist, and they support Israel in her hour of need.  But many of
those same Jews – and their friends who want the best for Israel – are
well within their rights and within the centrist mainstream to question
the wisdom of the actions taken this week, to question where they will
lead and to ask the US and others to help bring an end to the violence
as quickly as possible.

They are also in line with many in Israel, where on Friday, 30 peace
organizations (including the Peres Center for Peace, the Geneva
Initiative and Peace Now) signed a public call for an immediate
ceasefire, joining such pillars of the national conscience as David Grossman and Amos Oz.

J Street understands that Hamas is a terrorist organization and a
harsh enemy.  We are neither dovish nor pacifist, nor are we blindly
opposed to the use of force.  We support Israel in defending and
protecting its citizens from attack, including through military action
if necessary and appropriate to the threat.  We believe, however, that
force cannot be Israel’s only or preponderant response – even to Hamas.

We are pragmatists grounded in the real world and the lessons it
teaches.  As such – and as avid supporters of Israel – we are asking
whether the specific actions taken by Israel in Gaza actually do
advance Israel’s and America’s interests.  In this case, J Street
believes they do not.  We believe that the actions taken this week –
disproportionate to the threat and escalatory in nature – will be seen,
with time, as counterproductive.  They will further isolate Israel and
the US internationally, deepen hatred among the Palestinian and Israel
peoples, foment extremism throughout the Arab world and undercut the
position of more moderate Arab regimes

Further, we have asked from the first day of this operation, for
clarity as to Israel’s exit strategy.  An operation of this scale is
easy to start, but far more difficult to wind down successfully.  The
alternatives without a ceasefire – ongoing Israeli reoccupation of
Gaza, re-imposition by force of Fatah rule or international/Arab forces
taking over – all are either undesirable or unrealistic.

J Street believes the only option at this point for Israel and the
U.S. is to work urgently and immediately to achieve a ceasefire now
that stops the violence, ends the rockets and eases the blockade of
Gaza, rather than allowing a ground campaign to proceed.  Perhaps if
similar calls had been made – and heeded – in the first week of the
Lebanon War in 2006, much of the damage and loss in the conflict could
have been avoided.

Anshel Pfeffer, correspondent for Ha’aretz, portrayed the debate within the Jewish community outside Israel today slightly differently than Rabbi Yoffie.  To him, the three parties to the debate are, first, the “large
number of Pavlovian flag-wavers, good and innocent Zionists and Jews
who see only the trauma inflicted on the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and
other parts of the country’s south-west” and, second,
those on the far left who feel “compelled
to atone for Israel’s manifold sins and join its enemies in the
demonstrations and sign petitions accusing the Zionist entity of war

Then, says Pfeffer, there is a

“third stream of Jews – perhaps
not the widest one, but I believe quite significant – who have more
complex and uncomfortable feelings on the matter. They care deeply for
Israel and understand even why its government felt compelled to launch
the devastating Operation Cast Lead, but they are extremely disturbed
and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction that almost
seems part and parcel of the action. Surely, they say, there must,
there has to be another way of doing this. And they live with those
doubts, often unexpressed, even among families and close friends
because the worst thing they find is that others around them don’t seem
to discern between the different nuances, and can’t find in themselves
compassion for the dead and wounded on the other side. They begin
asking themselves very awkward questions: Are they surrounded by latent
racists, or is something wrong with them that denies the feelings of
certainty of those around them? Or does everyone have similar doubts
but are simply afraid to express them?”

J Street proudly identifies itself as swimming in this third,
centrist stream.  The only difference: we are unwilling to leave our
doubts unexpressed.  The views we hold may not be those of Rabbi
Yoffie, and that’s fine.  We accept and welcome an open and honest
debate about the merits of our pro-Israel positions.

But to call our views “morally deficient”, “naïve” and “out of
touch” with Jewish sentiment is to misread the emerging dynamics of
centrist, pro-Israel Jews.

J Street is very grateful to Rabbi Yoffie for the important
leadership he has demonstrated over the years in speaking out on
controversial and complex issues.  We look forward to continuing this
conversation with respect for each other’s support for Israel and for
our differences on how best to move forward.