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J Street explains pullout from Boston pro-Israel rally

WASHINGTON (JTA) — J Street withdrew from a pro-Israel rally in Boston because it did not feel the rally would address all the group’s concerns.

The liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, a constituent of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, explained its stance on the July 17 solidarity rally in a letter by its Boston director, Shaina Wasserman, to the JCRC’s executive director, Jeremy Burton, that was posted Monday on J Street’s website.

J Street had agreed at first to co-sponsor the rally for Israel in its current conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The group said it withdrew the night before because its officials did not feel that issues they wanted addressed were sufficiently represented, including grieving for victims on all sides, an emphasis on a diplomatic solution and especially the role of the U.S. Jewish community in advancing such a solution.

“J Street is fully supportive of the rally’s call for our community to demonstrate solidarity with Israel and Israelis, to speak for Israel’s right to defend itself under very challenging circumstances,” Wasserman wrote in the letter to Burton. “What was missing for us in this rally, and what ultimately precluded our co-sponsorship, was that despite our efforts, there was no space made to raise the issues that follow from our commitment to Israel’s Jewish and democratic future.”

Burton told JTA that speakers at the rally did address suffering on both sides and noted that its immediate emphasis was on Israel’s right to defend itself and Hamas’ responsibility for the current violence.

In interviews, Burton and a J Street official agreed that another point of disagreement was the JCRC’s failure to include a speaker suggested by J Street, although the JCRC had solicited such suggestions.

J Street’s selections were not appropriate, Burton said, in part because the group did not recommend a non-Jewish speaker, which the JCRC was seeking to emphasize communitywide support for Israel.

“We asked people for suggestions of non-Jewish leaders who would stand up and support Israel’s right to defend itself, original voices, new voices, not typical voices,” he said. The J Street official, who spoke on background, confirmed that the group did not suggest a non-Jewish speaker.

Non-Jewish speakers at the rally included a prominent industrialist, an associate dean of Harvard’s divinity school, a local mayor and a Canadian diplomat.

J Street has co-sponsored other pro-Israel rallies across the United States during the current conflict.

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