J Street Spars with Reform Judaism Leader over Gaza

Pro-peace, pro-Israel lobbying group J Street has found itself embroiled in a sparring match with the rabbinical leader of Reform Judaism--the largest and left-most sect of mainstream Judaism in North America--over the lobbying group's criticism of Israel's Gaza offensive.

On the first day of Israel's offensive against Hamas, J Street called for a ceasefire coupled with diplomatic intervention by the U.S., circulating an online petition supporting that plan.

In an e-mail to supporters, J Street Online Director Isaac Luria reiterated the point with a tinge of relativism that sparked the ire of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement.

Luria wrote:
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.
And there is nothing to be gained from debating which injustice is greater or came first. What's needed now is immediate action to stop the violence before it spirals out of control...

There needs to be an urgent end to the new hostilities that brings a complete end to military operations, including an end to the rocket fire out of Gaza, and that allows food, fuel and other civilian necessities into Gaza.

J Street's criticism was "morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive," Yoffie wrote last week in an op-ed published in The Jewish Daily Forward, an influential Jewish newspaper. The group "could find no moral difference" between Israel and the "terrorist gang" Hamas, Yoffie wrote.

J Street, for its part, has responded with a lengthy response from its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, claiming that many mainstream, centrist Jews share its concerns about Israel's military offensive.

"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," Ben-Ami writes in the statement, which wsa posted to the group's website.

J Street's rise in 2008 was seen by some as a referendum on liberal and centrist Jewish sentiment--a move away from conservative tones in U.S. support for its traditional Mid-East ally. Yoffie, a self-proclaimed pro-peace centrist, writes that he was excited about J Street's founding, but that the group has simply gone too far by opposing Israel's military response to Hamas's rocket attacks on its southern cities.

Ben-Ami continues, in his statement, to claim there are more U.S. Jews than Yoffie realizes who oppose Israel's offensive:
American Jews are, as Rabbi Yoffie says, by and large sensible and centrist, and they support Israel in her hour of need. But many of those same Jews