Whatever can or can’t be said about the Jewish community as a whole, 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, an early supporter of J Street, publicly broke with the left-leaninglobby group during last winter’s Gaza war, when he wrote an op-ed for the Forward accusing the organization of being “appallingly naive” for equivocating between Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel and the IDF’s retaliation. (The flame war continued with a statement from J Street accusing Yoffie of misreading the outrage among American Jews at the scope of the destruction in Gaza.) Now, 10 months later, 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. “Israel is not in violation of international law in terms of the way they’re dealing with the Gaza question,” Yoffie said. “Oh, come on!” several people catcalled. (They all clapped at the end, though.)
At the very back of the ballroom, where the press was penned at long banquet tables, Benjamin Sack, a public-affairs officer for the Israeli embassy, watched the proceedings with his arms crossed over his chest. Sack, whose nametag did not include his affiliation, showed up as the token observer, in place of Israel’s ambassador, Michael Oren, who very publicly declined last week to take his turn in front of the crowd. What did he make of it? “I’ll tell you what I’m telling everyone—it’s exactly what I expected,” he said, raising an eyebrow. Would there be any surprise guests from the embassy? “No.” Did he think Oren, or other embassy staff, would make use of J Street’s live-streaming to tune in? “We’ve got other things going on today, you know.”
Rabbi Yoffie’s Remarks to J Street Convention [URJ.org]
Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.