J Street’s Disappearing Gaza Statement (UPDATED)
UPDATE: As of a little bit after noon, the J Street statement in question is back online.
UPDATE II: Isaac Luria of J Street e-mails that the “text was down due to a technical error. It’s back up, as you’ve noted. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.”
J Street, the dovish new Israel lobbying group, launched last year to great fanfare. On the left, there were high hopes that J Street would be an “alternative Aipac” — a bold new endeavor that would finally give Jewish doves a voice inside the Beltway. On the right, there were those who questioned the veracity of the first half of J Street’s self-description as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.”
Israel’s Gaza offensive was the first serious Israeli-Arab conflagration to come along since the group was launched. So it’s no surprise that when J Street spoke, there were plenty of folks — friends, foes and fence-sitters alike — eagerly waiting to see what tack it would take. Sure enough, J Street managed to make quite a splash, sparking a ferocious intra-communal debate that played out on the blogosphere and in the pages of the Forward.
In its initial response to Israel’s air-strikes in Gaza, J Street put out a December 27 statement from its executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami. He warned that the air-strikes “will deepen the cycle of violence in the region” and called for “an urgent end to the new hostilities.”
It was a second statement, however, that really seemed to strike a nerve. That statement —based upon an earlier e-mail missive sent out by J Street’s online director, Isaac Luria — reiterated the earlier call for an end to the violence. Its rhetoric, however, went further. It explicitly criticized Israel’s actions on moral — as opposed to essentially pragmatic — grounds, and seemed to compare, or at least refused to contrast, Israeli actions with those of Hamas:
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong. 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.
That language drew a sharp rebuke from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and arguably the Jewish communal establishment’s most high-profile dove. “These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve,” he wrote in an opinion article for the Forward.
J Street, for its part, made no apologies for its statement. In fact, in a December 31 statement responding to Yoffie’s article, Ben-Ami struck a note of defiance, explaining that J Street “takes serious issue” with Yoffie’s article:
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.
Now, however, that second statement, containing the language Yoffie called “naïve” and “morally deficient,” has vanished from J Street’s Web site. Go to the url, and you get the following message: “Access denied… You are not authorized to access this page.” It has been gone for at least the past several days.
What happened? The statement was introductory text for J Street’s online petition campaign titled “Gaza: Stop the Violence.” Obviously, now that there’s a cease-fire, the statement is out of date. But statements introducing other out-of-date campaigns (i.e. “Stop Sarah Palin at non-partisan Iran rally”) remain online in J Street’s campaign archive. So why is the second Gaza statement the one thing that’s disappeared?
Here, I think it’s worth noting again the discrepancy in approach between J Street’s first statement on Gaza and the second one that disappeared. It’s also worth noting that Ben-Ami’s response to Yoffie elided the substance of the rabbi’s critique of the second statement’s language. Rather than defend the language of the second statement, Ben-Ami asserted that Yoffie was attacking J Street for “questioning the wisdom of the Gaza assault.” And, in contrast to the second statement, Ben-Ami went to the trouble of mentioning in his response that “J Street understands that Hamas is a terrorist organization and a harsh enemy.” Finally, it’s telling that the type of moral critique that J Street leveled in its vanished second statement was essentially absent from its subsequent statements on the Gaza crisis.
J Street may not have issued a mea culpa for the language of its second statement. But its disappearance leaves one to wonder whether, in hindsight, J Street had some regrets. It wouldn’t be the first time that J Street has, intentionally or not, made an inconvenient fact disappear online.