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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reform leader speaks to J Street

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke at the J Street convention on Monday. He was booed.

The full text of Rabbi Yoffie's remarks is here. I have a lot to criticize about his remarks, but I want to focus on what he had to say about the Goldstone Report, because that's what drew the catcalls:
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.

But the Goldstone report chose not to focus on these questions. Its central assertion is that Israel targeted Palestinian civilians, intentionally causing their deaths. This is a stunning and outrageous charge. I reject it, the people of Israel reject it, and - most important - it is not supported by the facts. This is not a thoughtful judicial report attempting to make difficult moral judgments. It is a political report based largely on unverifiable Palestinian claims that is meant to be used as a sledgehammer to bludgeon Israel.

If you doubt this, read the report. Its reasoning is shaky in some places and more often absurd. The accusations against Palestinians are expressed in language that is understated and restrained, while the accusations against Israel are expressed in wording that is sweeping, bold, and absolute. And upon closer inspection, many of these charges include phrases such as "it seems that," "it would appear," and "we have no definite proof but..." In an interview in the Forward, Goldstone acknowledged that nothing in the report could be used as proof in a court of law and that it contained no actual "evidence" of wrongdoing by Israel. Among the public that heard about this report and the diplomatic community that seized upon it, I doubt if one person in a hundred is aware of what we are now told is the report's limited scope. Didn't Justice Goldstone have an obligation to make this clear from the beginning? And this too: you cannot be a moral agent if you serve an immoral master, and Richard Goldstone should be ashamed of himself for working under the auspices of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

It will be important for Israel to continue with the investigations that it has already begun. Still, I suspect and I fear that the damage has already been done. This report, no matter how compelling the refutations that follow, will become a staple of U.N. gatherings and international meetings. It will be used to incite against Israel and to portray every Israeli leader connected with the military as a war criminal. It will become an instrument to inflame Palestinian extremism. And it will be invoked every time that Israel defends itself against attacks on its civilian centers. In short, it has made the work of peace much harder than it already was.
I don't agree with a lot of what he says, but I thought that with the exception of his opening questions (the answers to which seem too obvious to me), his critique of Goldstone was spot-on. Many of those present at the J Street convention disagreed:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism and one of the most prominent doves in the country, blasted J Street earlier this year for "drawing a moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel." Yoffie spoke at the J Street conference today and was booed by the audience for criticizing Goldstone. J Street is trying to find the space between its hard left, anti-Zionist base and the larger community of liberal, pro-Israel Jews. It's not clear they'll succeed.
What's important about this speech is what it tells us about J Street and not what it tells us about Rabbi Yoffie or Goldstone. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I reported that J Street's university division has removed 'pro-Israel' from its calling card in order to be 'more inclusive' and perhaps admitting that critics who said that J Street was not pro-Israel are correct (by the way, that story was the banner headline in Tuesday's JPost print edition). The catcalls for Rabbi Yoffie show that what has now been proven about the university division is also true about the organization as a whole. J Street is not pro-Israel. It's time to tell the truth.


At 3:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

What the booing of Rabbi Yoffie, no neoconservative as any one knows, has revealed, is that J-Street is opposed to clearing Israel's good name in Goldstone. You don't hear catcalls from a pro-Israel group ridiculing a defense of Israel from someone addressing it. Yet that is exactly what happened at the J-Street meeting and it showed where its true sympathies lie. It isn't with the Jewish State.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


I suspect that Oren would have gotten treatment similar to that received by Ehud Olmert in Chicago and San Francisco recently.

I agree - Oren was wise to stay away.


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