Commentary Magazine


Do Jewish Liberals Oppose the War?

A couple of days ago, James Kirchick and I both wrote about the dissenting position taken by the dovish Jewish lobby on the Gaza operation. Here’s Kirchick:

[A]t a time when the vast majority of Israelis and American Jews support what Israel is doing, J Street steps out of the shadows as the voice of communal dissent, joined by the likes of the United Nations and the Guardian editorial board (even the Arab League tacitly supports what Israel is doing, seeing that Hamas is an Iranian front). J Street has the right to its extreme leftist, capitulationist opinions, but it does not have the right to claim, as Ben-Ami once did, that it represents the “broad, sensible mainstream of pro-Israel American Jews.”

An article in the Jewish Forward, written by rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism — a liberal Jewish organization, no doubt — proves that Kirchick was right: J Street can’t claim to represent the American Jewish majority. It can’t even claim to represent the view of a liberal Jewish majority. Yoffie, a liberal himself, as even J Street acknowledges, writes this:

It is not easy for me to write these words. I welcomed the founding of J Street and know many of those involved in its leadership. Furthermore, I am a dove myself. I support a two-state solution, believe that military action by Israel should be a last resort and welcome an active American role in promoting peace between Israel and her neighbors. But I know a mistake when I see one, and this time J Street got it very wrong.

The handlers of J Street didn’t like Yoffie’s article, to put it mildly:

It is hard for us to understand how the leading reform rabbi in North America could call our effort to articulate a nuanced view on these difficult issues “morally deficient.” If our views are “naïve” and “morally deficient”, then so are the views of scores of Israeli journalists, security analysts, distinguished authors, and retired IDF officers who have posed the same questions about the Gaza attack as we have.

Yet they provide little evidence or sources regarding these “analysts” and “authors.” Do they even exist? In fact, when the operation started, most dovish Israelis, among them authors Amos Oz and A.B Yehushua — the Left’s unofficial deans — supported it. Truth be told, a growing camp within the Israeli Left now supports a cease-fire — but very few opposed the operation in its initial stages the way J Street did. As I’ve shown here, even the left-wing Meretz Party supported the operation when it started.

And even assuming that Meretz’s position is more in sync with the one espoused by J Street today, it is still not the position of Israel’s Left — not even by a stretch — unless by the Left what we really mean is the radical Left. The centrist Kadima and the center-left Labor are part of the coalition managing the war. Meretz — according to most polls — represents barely 5% of Israel’s population. If J Street argues that a similar percentage — or even double that percentage — or even five times that percentage of American Jews agree with them — it is still far from the “broad mainstream” they claim to represent.