Maybe there’s some hubris involved when I chime in on the ongoing J Street conference. I’m not even there and we’ve got four or five Jewschoolers there covering it quite capably here and at Twitter. But when Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism shows up at J Street and gets booed by a crowd, I’ve got to say something. After all, I’m the self-proclaimed URJ expert here at Jewschool. Indeed, one of our guest posters has already written about this beautiful moment in this post, but I’ll take a very different angle.
To recap the relationship so far between the URJ and J Street: although Yoffie and the Religious Action Center (a DC lobby affiliated with the URJ) were initially quite warm to J Street, Yoffie lost his cool with J Street during the Gaza shit early this year. He disagreed vehemently with J Street’s assessment that Operation Cast Lead was a bad idea in this Forward op-ed. Here is J Street’s response to the piece.
But now, it seems that Yoffie sees that J Street agrees with him on more than it disagrees. And it seems J Street sees the value in having the leader of the largest Jewish religious organization in America present at their inaugural conference.
Here’s the text of his address to the J Street conference yesterday. An excerpt:
This is not the time for a full discussion of the Goldstone report, which in my view was fatally flawed. There are many questions that one might legitimately ask about Israel’s conduct of the war: Why was it necessary for Israeli forces to use so much firepower? How do you carry out a war against a terrorist organization that attacks your citizens and hides amid a civilian population? What risks are Israeli soldiers obligated to take, beyond those inherent in combat, to prevent harm to civilians? The Israelis that I know are asking these questions; it is right for them to do so, and it is right for the government of Israel to deal with these issues.
“This is not the time for a full discussion of the Goldstone report”? Which Yoffie then spends several paragraphs going on about?
Here’s RJ.org’s horn-tooting celebration of the address. An excerpt:
Rabbi Yoffie is widely considered the American Jewish community’s leading “dove.” His address at J Street’s conference underscores both the maturity of the dialogue over Middle East peace and the Reform Movement’s commitment to peace.
And here’s what Tablet had to say about the address. An excerpt:
[…] the 1,500 progressive activists gathered in Washington for this week’s J Street conference really, really agree with each other. The only division we’ve seen on display, in fact, came this afternoon, when Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, that movement’s organizing body, showed up for a “town hall” discussion with J Street’s founder, Jeremy Ben Ami. […]
Yoffie drew boos from the crowd for suggesting that Gazans invited their current circumstances by voting for Hamas after Israel withdrew from the territory in 2006, and for defending Israel against accusations, particularly in a recent U.N. report by Richard Goldstone, that it may have committed war crimes in Gaza. […]
(They all clapped at the end, though.)
This points to what it means to be pro-peace for the URJ and much of its membership. I grew up neck-deep in Reform politics, so I don’t doubt the URJ’s commitment to peace for Israel and the world. Unfortunately, the URJ is constantly treading a fine line where they want to be seen as pro-peace without willing to be as critical of Israel as such a position demands.
This cognitive dissonance is what leads to slight rift between J Street and the URJ. To summarize Yoffie, “The Gazans brought it on themselves. It’s not really Israel’s fault. But we want peace for both sides anyway.” This position wants to have it too many ways for anything resembling coherence.
If the URJ has a contribution to make to the pro-Israel pro-peace discussion, shit or get off the pot. Do it or go away. If J Street is right when they claim to represent a majority, and if the URJ’s membership is as liberal as anecdotal evidence has proven to me that it is, the URJ should go full throttle for the J Street position if they want to do their members’ justice.