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Reform leader raps J Street’s Gaza stance

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The leader of the Reform movement criticized J Street over its opposition to Israel’s attacks against Gaza.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism and an early supporter of J Street, wrote in the Forward that the year-old liberal pro-Israel lobby had "misread the issues and misjudged the views of American Jews." Yoffie specifically cited one statement by the group which said that "while there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million-and-a-half already suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them."

"These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive," Yoffie wrote. "A cease-fire instituted by Hamas would be welcome, and Israel would be quick to respond. A cease-fire imposed on Israel would allow Hamas to escape the consequences of its actions yet again and would lead in short order to the renewal of its campaign of terror.

"Hamas, it should be noted, is not a government; it is a terrorist gang. And as long as the thugs of Hamas can act with impunity, no Israeli government of the right or the left will agree to a two-state solution or any other kind of peace. Doves take note: To be a dove of influence, you must be a realist, firm in your principles but shorn of all illusions."

In response, the executive director of J Street said his organization could not understand Yoffie’s criticisms.

"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," Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote in a statement on the group’s Web site.

"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 ‘naive’ and ‘morally deficient,’ " Ben-Ami wrote, "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."

Ben-Ami wrote that 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 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."

Ben-Ami added that "to call our views ‘morally deficient,’ ‘naive’ and ‘out of touch’ with Jewish sentiment is to misread the emerging dynamics of centrist, pro-Israel Jews." 

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