The left-leaning J-Street organization issued a critique of the American Jewish establishment on Friday, bemoaning what the Washington lobby sees as a lack of criticism of the Jewish state among Jewish organizations commenting on the current conflict.
J-Street condemned “in the strongest possible terms Hamas, its mission to destroy Israel, and its brazen use of instruments of terror to carry out its agenda,” and expressed its support for Israel’s “right to respond to the rocket fire and to defend its soil and its citizens proportionately, while making every effort to minimize civilian casualties.”
Nevertheless, the group’s statement continued, “too many communal and organizational reactions to the present crisis stop there, however, and fail to express the ‘ands’ that complete those thoughts.”
Continuing its statement with a series of ‘ands,’ J-Street said that it grieves for “families in Gaza whose innocent children are dying,” for the families of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens, and for the family of the Arab teen slain in an apparent revenge attack in Jerusalem.
“And… as we condemn the rockets, the terror, and the incitement from the Palestinians – we also condemn the incitement, racism, and calls for vengeance that have become far too prevalent, not simply on the Israeli street but among some of the Israeli and the Jewish people’s leaders,” the group stated.
“Ultimately there is no military solution to the underlying conflict,” the group continued, calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank as the only solution to the Israeli- Arab conflict.
Calling on pro-Israeli organizations in the United States to “acknowledge the conflict’s complexity” and to cease placing the conflict in an “you’re either with us or you’re against us” mode, J-Street said that it “ strongly disagrees with those in the American Jewish community who believe our reaction at this moment should not incorporate these ‘ands’ as well.”
J-Street’s comments elicited a range of responses, from approval to stark condemnations, highlighting a dichotomy between the Zionist left and right that will only continue to be exacerbated as the conflict continues, according to sociologist Dr. Steven Cohen of the Hebrew Union College.
“I think the J-Street statement reflects the tendency of the left to seek complexity and the right to seek discipline and uniformity and unity,” said Cohen.
“J-Street in my view was chiding the other members of the Jewish community for failing to take on greater complexity in their positions, but there wasn’t a real polarization between J-Street and the rest of the Jewish community,” Cohen explained.
“American Jewry is torn between two motives or objectives.
One is to defend the good name of Israel and the other is to try to influence Israeli policies.
So the Left tends to want to do both and the Right tends to prefer to put much more emphasis on helping Israel defend its good name in the American public. So at a time like this, when the issues are very difficult to understand, the Left and Right are probably on paths toward greater polarization and diversity, as they are in Israel right now.”
J-Street recently lost a bid to join the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a coalition body representing a broad spectrum of American Jewry.
J-Street’s assertions are false, conference executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in response to the statement.
“The Jewish community led by us and many others in the United States spoke very strongly about the killing of [Arab teenager] Muhammad Abu Khdeir.”
Hoenlein stated that the conference would not engage in the “moral equivalence” of “equating what Israel is doing to defend its citizens and what the Gazans are doing. They elected Hamas,” he said, adding that, while “no one is indifferent to the loss of life, we don’t equate the firefighter with the arsonist.”
““The notion of juxtaposing these two thoughts [Hamas rockets and Israeli incitement] in one sentence is, frankly, shocking,” American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris said.
“For Hamas, racism, incitement and calls for vengeance are the norm, its modus operandi.
For Israel, they are the exception.
Hamas leaders embody these views, as does the Hamas Charter itself. Israel’s leaders, and its national ethos, condemn them whenever they might surface. If Israel doesn’t deserve full, shoulder-to-shoulder support from self-described ‘pro-Israel’ organizations right now, as hundreds of rockets and missiles are fired at its cities and towns, when does it?” he asked.
Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a Muslim- Jewish interfaith organization, agreed. “If anything,” he said, “what has become prevalent in Israeli society, particularly in its religious establishment, has been the condemnation of incitement, racism and calls for vengeance.”
According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, J-Street’s “insistence on creating a false symmetry between Israel and Gaza at this time is another excellent example of their fundamentally flawed approach to Middle East politics.”
“Again and again, J Street has bent over backward to present a ‘balanced’ approach to the ongoing conflict between Jews and Palestinians, as if both sides are equally to blame for the failure to achieve a lasting peace,” said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the center’s Israel director.
The World Zionist Organization applauded J-Street’s statement, with David Breakstone, the body’s vice chairman, stating that he appreciates the group’s “unequivocal endorsement of our government’s legitimate and self-disciplined response to Hamas’ unprovoked and indiscriminate bombardment of Israel, as well as its unambiguous statement “that those who use terror, fire rockets and seek to destroy Israel must be rooted out and defeated.”
“In that context, I also appreciate the organization’s sensitivity to the suffering of innocents in Gaza,” he said. “More than this, I am hopeful that this explicit recognition of our conscious and deliberate effort to minimize civilian casualties will encourage others to acknowledge our restraint. As for J-Street’s plea for an end to calls for vengeance on both sides, this is nothing but a reflection of the government’s stated position, as is its call for a return to diplomacy as ultimately being the only way to resolve the conflict.”
Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, made the following comment: “J Street’s comments demonstrate that they are out of the mainstream of American Jewry. In a clear violation of international law, Hamas fires rockets deliberately at innocent civilians. They fire from their own civilian areas with total disregard for the safety and well-being of the Palestinian Arab civilians in Gaza.