URJ President Yoffie booed at J Street, I smirk

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle.

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.

33 Responses to “URJ President Yoffie booed at J Street, I smirk”

  1. [...] President Yoffie booed at J Street, I smirk Jump to Comments Originally posted to [...]


    URJ President Yoffie booed at J Street, I smirk « · October 27th, 2009 at 4:13 pm
  2. 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

    Unbelievable. Either you agree with J Street on every issue, or you’re suffering from cognitive dissonance.

    Kol HaKavod for booing Rabbi Yoffie. How dare he disagree with Jeremy Ben-Ami!


    Jonathan1 · October 27th, 2009 at 4:34 pm
  3. And Kol HaKavod to you, Jonathan1, for rephrasing what I said so that it sounds feeble-minded and simplistic.

    That is not my point. Let’s forget about J Street for a moment (if such a thing is possible at this point in history).

    Let us instead turn our attention to Yoffie’s basic position. His position boils down being willing to say that Israel and Palestine need peace (good), but that the violence that Palestine experiences is all its own damn fault (not so good) and that Israel was just doing what anyone would do during Cast Lead, which was a humanitarian disaster (even worse).

    If he’s gonna be “the American Jewish community’s leading ‘dove,’” he’s got to accept that logical positions that flow forth from that position.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 27th, 2009 at 5:17 pm
  4. What do all you JStreet groupies have to say about this?

    www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1256557968276&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull


    MS · October 27th, 2009 at 5:52 pm
  5. Yoffie was booed and deserved more of it for presenting Palestinian human rights as a kind of side issue that detracts from defending Israel. For meaning, consistently, anyone wearing a pro-Israel cap needs to join the anti-UN and anti-Amnesty folks in the Hebrew Alamo to make a brave last stand. Against international human rights law enforcement.

    Yoffie represents his community well – they hold often contradictory positions. But he’s not an actual ‘leader’ when it comes to peace. Save that title for someone like Ben-Ami.

    (Yes. Count me as yet another non-Zionist lefty full of admiration for what he has done, even if I don’t embrace the whole loving Israel shtick. You know what would be funny? If any of the folks running around ‘loving Israel’ would start talking that way about America, the country they are citizens of….)


    Jew Guevara · October 27th, 2009 at 6:00 pm
  6. That is not my point.

    Ok. You have the right to make your point and to criticize Yoffie’s position.

    But, why do you need to boo the man?

    Maybe not you, DAMW, but aren’t many J-Street supporters upset that Embassador Oren declined his invitation? Why would he want to appear at a pro-Israel conference where he would likely get booed and hissed at?


    Jonathan1 · October 27th, 2009 at 6:16 pm
  7. DAMW,

    I read that the same way Jonathan1 did. It sounds like you’re creating some hardline litmus tests for what constitutes “pro-Israe, pro-peace”. I thought JStreet was all about inclusiveness and creating a big tent to expand the conversation about Israel and the peace process. If even Yoffie doesn’t fit in that tent…


    Avigdor · October 27th, 2009 at 7:25 pm
  8. MS, I think the article you refer to speaks for itself:

    “Barr, secretary of the J Street U student board that decided the slogan’s terminology, explained that on campus, ‘people feel alienated when the conversation revolves around a connection to Israel only, because people feel connected to Palestine, people feel connected to social justice, people feel connected to the Middle East.’”

    If that’s what it takes engage college students, I’m ok with it.


    Jew Guevara
    , without agreeing with everything you say, you hit it on the nose with this: “Yoffie was booed and deserved more of it for presenting Palestinian human rights as a kind of side issue that detracts from defending Israel.”

    Jonathan, why do I need to boo the man? You’ll recall that I noted in this post that I wasn’t there. So I didn’t boo him. I imagine that I wouldn’t have booed him either, had I been there. I probably would have, as I imply in this post’s headline, smirked at the booing.

    And as for why Oren would want to appear, welcome to Israel and welcome to politics, Oren! He should have appeared because it’s the politically smart thing to do and he should’ve either said what he believes and gotten the expected response for that or he should have been tactful and brief and gotten the applause he deserves.

    Avigdor, I don’t know what J Street is about other than peace for Israel and the creation of Palestine as a state. If Yoffie isn’t willing to accept, as I’ve said, the logical positions that follow from such a stance, he can leave, for all I care.

    And who knows what he really thinks anyway? He speaks for a giant, dues-paying constituency with a number of factions and positions on Israel contained within.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 27th, 2009 at 8:40 pm
  9. DAMW, fair enough. However, it seems the real issue is not whether Yoffie will be accepted in JStreet, we both know he will be, for reasons of pragmatism and “centrist” legitimacy if nothing else.

    The question is whether you, given the litmus tests you’ve created, can be a part of an organization which has welcomed Yoffie, and what he believes (or the views he represents), with open arms. Who will they welcome tomorrow?

    Street is not an intellectual endeavor in purity. It is barely a year old and already making compromises to grow its support base. You don’t invite someone like Yoffie into the fold without an impact on the tone and agenda. The transition from idealism to policy is not always pretty. Aleady, your “pro-Peace, pro-Palestine” is not JStreet’s “pro-Israel, pro-Peace”.

    Do you have the stomach for this?


    Avigdor · October 27th, 2009 at 9:00 pm
  10. So I didn’t boo him

    Fine. Everybody who booed Rabbi Yaffie, and by everybody I do NOT mean David A.M. Wilensky, please stop booing people who attend the J-Street conference.

    welcome to Israel and welcome to politics, Oren

    Actually, the J-Street convention was held in the USA, not in Israel.

    And, for that matter, J-Street is a self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” organization; it’s not an Israeli organization.

    The Israeli ambassador was appointed by the Israeli prime minister, who was elected by the people who actually live in Israel–the ones who actually pay the high taxes, and get blown up by the bombs and spend so much time in the army . . . and who also are part of the occupation in the territories.

    Maybe I have a problem with basic logic, but I’d think the Israeli ambassador would be eager to attend a conference hosted by a pro-Israel organization. That he didn’t want to attend probably says something about J-Street, but who knows.

    . . . . .

    on another note, the part of the conference I watched were indeed very interesting


    Jonathan1 · October 27th, 2009 at 9:16 pm
  11. The settlements would not have materialized without the support of the Reform movement. Akiva Eldar (who is at the J Street conference) in “Lords of the Land” documents the guilt of the URJ in enabling Ariel Sharon’s 30 year colonization of the West Bank.
    A few years ago, Rabbi Yoffie issued a mild mea culpa. He has given liberal Jews no reason to trust that the URJ will not repeat its grave error of judgement. His poor judgement on Gaza shows that he has still not learned to take a principled stand on Israel.


    Elliot · October 27th, 2009 at 10:09 pm
  12. An interesting side note. At the same time Yoffie was being booed at JStreet, R. David Saperstein was bringing a room full of interfaith activists to their feet behind his fiery words and impassioned pleas at the Interfaith Youth Core’s “Leadership for a Religiously Diverse World” conference.


    fs · October 27th, 2009 at 10:35 pm
  13. I was at the J Street conference session at which Rabbi Yoffie was booed. I want to point out that the booing was done by maybe two dozen people out of well over a thousand. They were eventually quieted by the moderator who informed them they had the choice of treating the speakers with respect or leaving the room.


    Bob · October 28th, 2009 at 12:09 am
  14. Avigdor, I had the stomach to turn into the Jew I am in the URJ under the auspices of Yoffie. I think I have the stomach to lend support from afar to an organization that’s he’s given one speech to.

    Jonathan, thanks for pointing out the obvious. I understand where it was held. I meant Israel as a topic. People get booed when it comes to Israel by fellow supporters who disagree with them (as in the case of Yoffie) and by the truly anti-Israel alike.

    I don’t think that Oren’s non-presence says anything about J Street. I think it says something about the Israeli government being internally dogmatic and short-sighted. Not to mention the vast swath of American Jews they’re thumbing their nose to by not coming. Kudos to Livni and her ilk for their support, even if from afar.

    Elliot, I didn’t know about the settlement thing, but thanks for bringing it up. That’s very interesting indeed.

    fs, Saperstein is a giant! He does great work in DC and I’ve got nothing bad to say about him. Though URJ Jews are far from unanimity on Israel, when it comes to a wide assortment of domestic issues, they’re much closer to real agreement, making the work that the RAC does in Washington very important to and reflective of the movement. Does anyone know if he was at the J Street conference at all? What about someone from ARZA?


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 28th, 2009 at 12:13 am
  15. I don’t think that Oren’s non-presence says anything about J Street. I think it says something about the Israeli government being internally dogmatic and short-sighted

    Maybe the Israeli government just is not as pro-Israel as is J-Street?

    Not to mention the vast swath of American Jews they’re thumbing their nose to by not coming

    Who are we trying to kid? There aren’t vast swaths of American Jews who care about Israel one way or another. They don’t care about J-Street, AIPAC, ZOA, URJ . . . those of us who indeed are interested in Israel are fooling ourselves if we think that most American Jews care too.


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 12:22 am
  16. Jonathan, I’m not gonna get into a statistical debate with you because neither of us have any numbers to cite right now. Agreed?

    Maybe the Israeli government just is not as pro-Israel as is J-Street?

    Or maybe Bibi’s coalition merely lacks any commitment to peace. As noted in J Street’s slogan, their whole point is to be committed to the existence of Israel, while demanding peace for all, not just the inhabitants of Israel. If Israel’s gonna be a responsible, peace-loving member of the international community, they’re gonna have to find it within themselves to stand up and say “We’re pro-peace too.” Until then, I foresee that they will continue to ignore the brand of common sense that J Street is pushing.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 28th, 2009 at 12:25 pm
  17. Agreed.

    Or maybe Bibi’s coalition merely lacks any commitment to peace

    His coalition certainly lacks any commitment to making a deal with the Palestinians. That is obvious.

    their whole point is to be committed to the existence of Israel, while demanding peace for all

    But what if that is a contradictory position? Meaning, what if the people who actually live in Israel believe that the two-state idea will threaten Israel’s existence? What then? Again, Netanyahu’s coaltion was elected by the people who actually live in Israel, those who have endured the years of bombings and rockets, and the wars, and the reserve duty, and the economic boycotts. For right or wrong, those people have elected this government. And now a self-proclamed pro-Israel organization in the USA is lecturing that government that it needs to decide if it’s pro-peace? People in Israel–who have lived through decades of this crap–don’t want peace as much as do American Jews?

    Maybe J-Street could re-name itself to something like the “Organization That Supports Israeli-Palestinian Peace Now,” or “American Jews who Support a Two-State Solution.”

    … but a self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” American organization lecturing the freely-elected Israeli government as to what is best for Israel?????


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 1:14 pm
  18. “But what if that is a contradictory position? Meaning, what if the people who actually live in Israel believe that the two-state idea will threaten Israel’s existence? What then?”

    I don’t buy it. It’s not logical in any sense. Maybe experience has taught some that peace is unlikely, but you can’t say that the idea that Israel should exist is inherently violent as an idea. And if it is, I don’t want to support it.

    For better or for worse, US interests are entangled in this overseas situation. J Street is not lecturing Israel, as you suggest. Rather, they are lobbying congress and the president to see that it is in the best interests of America to secure the existence if Israel and Palestine in peace.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 28th, 2009 at 1:29 pm
  19. I have been thinking about the booing of Yoffe, which I observed from the overflow room, overflowing a bit myself from conference overload. It has been pointed out to me that Yoffe lends tremendous legitimacy to JStreet, but what did he get out of his appearance? A chance to reach a more leftish audience and call us out a bit? Jeremy’s statements made it clear that JStreet didn’t share his views. Now the question is will JStreet allow less prominent “left” folks with a similar degree of overlap with Yoffe podiums in the future, given that no one was hurt by a bit of debate?


    trayf · October 28th, 2009 at 1:34 pm
  20. Well, you’ve written that the Netanyahu government is not pro-peace. I’m sure you realize that the people who actually live in Israel elected this government. So, apparrantly, the majority of people who actually live in Israel have a different understanding than do you as to what is best for Israel.

    And if it is, I don’t want to support it

    Nobody is saying you have to support Israel.

    I’m just saying that groups/people who market themselves as “pro-Israel” should either live in Israel or not lobby against the freely elected Israeli government abroad. Call me old-fashioned.


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 1:43 pm
  21. idea that Israel should exist is inherently violent

    And, btw, look at what you’re saying for a moment. You’re completely discounting the idea–that many in Israel have–that an agreement with the Palestinians will lead to even more violence. Whether that is correct or incorrect, only time will tell, but to simply cast those who oppose the two-state concept as somehow belieiving that Israel should exist in a perpetual state of war is perhaps ignoring the experience of 2000-2004 (I often wonder how many people here even remember that glorious time in Israel.)


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 1:47 pm
  22. Jonathan1 writes:
    but to simply cast those who oppose the two-state concept as somehow belieiving that Israel should exist in a perpetual state of war is perhaps ignoring the experience of 2000-2004 (I often wonder how many people here even remember that glorious time in Israel.)

    I lived in Israel during part of that glorious time, and it made me want nothing more than to have the Palestinian territories on the other side of an international border.


    BZ · October 28th, 2009 at 3:52 pm
  23. So, you have no intellectual sympathy for those who came to the conclussion that Oslo was a disasterous mistake?


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 3:57 pm
  24. trayf, excellent point and question.

    Jonathan, I didn’t call Bibi anti-peace any more than you called j Street anti-Israel.

    If Israel is a state by and for Israelis, I’ll shut up. But if Israel is a Jewish state, I get to have an opinion. Call me old-fashioned.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 28th, 2009 at 6:17 pm
  25. It is clear to me that the two state solution is the only way for Israel to avoid perpetual war and eventual destruction. I think those who believe Israel can survive long term without a viable Palestinian state are deluding themselves, at best.


    Jeff Marker · October 28th, 2009 at 6:30 pm
  26. Greetings,

    If I may suggest a correction in the use of the word “Isreal” in your comments. It was not Isreal that commited war atrocities in Gaza but rather extremist zionists in control of the Isrealy war machine who did. The peace movement is commiting a fundemental mistake by equating zionist behavior to Isreal and Jewishness. Which is exactly what AIPAC wants and exactly why AIPAC so effective.


    Ali Charara · October 28th, 2009 at 6:34 pm
  27. Jonathan, I’m with BZ. I lived through those glorious years – in the west bank, no less – and I wanted the hell out of there. Very fast.


    Amit · October 28th, 2009 at 6:45 pm
  28. What’s your point, Amit? I lived through those times too, and I wanted us out of there too. But, a lot of other people came to different conclusions, and I don’t think it’s too hard to understand why.


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 7:19 pm
  29. If Israel is a state by and for Israelis, I’ll shut up. But if Israel is a Jewish state, I get to have an opinion. Call me old-fashioned

    You get to have an opinion, but if you are going around the country presenting yourself as a “pro-Israel” professional, lobbying Congress from the perspective of a “pro-Israel” professional, then you DON’T have the right to try to convince the U.S. government to pressure the Israeli government. It’s too much chutzpa.


    Jonathan1 · October 28th, 2009 at 7:23 pm
  30. I find this entire exchange, which I chanced upon by accident, very sad. Aside from the usual intra-Jewish, ideological sniping; it’s sad because the participants are unaware of just how racist, and paternalist their positions are. The Arab World, irrespective of degrees of openness to Western culture or of personal piety, can not (and for the near future, will not) accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. That position is one of deep and abiding principle, based upon 1400 years of Islamic teaching.
    All one needs to do is to read the Quran, the Hadith of the Prophet and the way these are taught in Muslim countries to understand that.

    It is, therefore, the height of hubris to ‘solve’ the Arab-Israel conflict on terms that the Arab World will find nothing less than humiliating. Hence, carping about settlements (which take up less than 5% of the West Bank) is a fata morgana. The issue is, and has always been, one of beliefs and principles. In other words, do Jews have a right to a state in their ancestral hoimeland or not? You might demur that that’s been long settled. However, if you ask Akiva Eldar, Shlomo Zand and other Israeli Leftists (never mind American Jews), it’s still a point to be proven.

    As for the so-called war crimes in the Gaza Campaign; I invite all of you to come to Sederot and hear about life with incessant rocket attacks. War is not neat. It isn’t a video game. When the enemy refuses to honor Geneva Conventions protecting civilians, do you honestly expect Israel to say ‘Fine. My people can suffer and die, so long as Palestinian civilians are safe to (in a large part) facilitate attacks on my population.’

    I hope you never come to know what that means.


    Jeffrey R. Woolf · October 29th, 2009 at 3:16 am
  31. Jeffrey, what should we do then? If it’s not possible for Israel’s neighbors to accept her, should Israel just there in perpetuity, in constant waves of conflict, stalemate, ceasefire, conflict, stalemate, ceasefire, and so forth? Your attitude is defeatist.

    Do not put words in my mouth, by the way. “Fine. My people can suffer and die, so long as Palestinian civilians are safe to (in a large part) facilitate attacks on my population.” That’s utter nonsense and no one here said that. That’s why we keep demanding peace for Israel and for Palestine. There is no one victim here no one antagonist.


    David A.M. Wilensky · October 29th, 2009 at 9:57 am
  32. Looking at your adversary straight in the eye and respecting that which he tells you is, well, respectful and pragmatic.

    Will this struggle be long? Unfortunately, yes. That, however, is not defeatism. Defeatism is giving up and moving away. I live in Israel, and have raised my family here. We are in for the long haul. That’s how the Jews survived, by looking at things as part of the longue duree, sub specie aeternitatis.

    It is a fact that in the present constellation, the Arab World (including the Palestinians) have not developed the conceptual framework that would allow for the kind of Peace that we dream of. Attaining pieces of paper will not provide it either. Consider. Japan has never signed a Peace Treaty with the United States, and so the state of war between them still exists. Iraq and Iran, Serbia and Bosnia, have signed many accords. Peace is a question of frame of reference and common interests. Tragically, neither is on the horizon here. That’s why concentrating on the Jewish presence in the wet Bank trivializes the broader issues.

    I also summarily reject your indulging in even-handedness. We came home after two millenia. Overall, we sought to build bridges to the Arabs. the response was always (since 1920): ‘al Aqsa is in danger! Itbah al-Yahud!’ Were we always proper? Absolutely, not. Did we overwhelmingly try to be fair, yes.

    To be fair, I summarily reject the canons of post-modern, politically correct thought and expression. As a neo-positivist historian, I do believe there are real truths. Our differences may actually divide us on the level of discourse. However, of one thing I am sure, only those who are convinced of the absolute righteousness of their cause can maintain and sustain themselves.

    Anything less than that is defeatism.


    Jeffrey R. Woolf · October 29th, 2009 at 4:23 pm
  33. Jeffrey, Jewschool is important. Bookmark and come back, often. These words would mean more if you knew my comment history here.


    Avigdor · October 29th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

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