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At J Street, Yoffie Garners Boos, Applause

By Nathan Guttman

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It is not every day that Rabbi Eric Yoffie gets booed by a lefty crowd. But that is one of the risks when standing up as a keynote speaker at the J Street conference.

Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a leading dovish vote in American Jewry, was one of the earliest critics of J Street. He came out, in an article published in the Forward against J Street’s opposition to the Israeli military operation in Gaza last December.

On Monday, Yoffie stepped into the lion’s den, sharing the stage with J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami for a town hall-style discussion moderated by the Forward’s editor Jane Eisner.

The boos had nothing to do with Yoffie’s disagreement with J Street over the Gaza war. They came after he condemned South African jurist Richard Goldstone for his report accusing Israel of war crimes during the Gaza war. “Richard Goldstone should be ashamed of himself,” Yoffie said. The audience didn’t like the harsh tone, although J Street as a group also expressed reservations about the Gaza report.

After a lengthy discussion, involving questions from the audience and tweets sent in, it turned out that differences between the Reform leader and the new dovish lobby are not as significant.

Yoffie, in a speech that thoroughly laid out his viewpoint on American Jewish relations with Israel, was unapologetic on the issue of the Gaza war. “If I have a complaint against the government of Israel, it is that I wonder if it should not have acted sooner in Gaza,” he said.

But Yoffie also made clear that he is far from being a hardliner. While making a distinction between settlements west of the separation wall to those on its east, he stated that all settlements east of the wall need to be removed in order to allow a two-state solution. Settlement freeze, Yoffie stressed, will not be sufficient. There needs to be dismantling of settlements in the heart of the West Bank.

“There are those who proclaim that Israel will simply defy the world. It will retain the settlements and Israeli rule, and the world be damned. I am among those who believe that it cannot and will not, and to suggest otherwise is to misread both what is happening in the world and the extent of Israel’s power.”

Yoffie accused Jewish groups of having “their heads in the sand” on the matter of settlements and a two-state solution. “Too much of the American Jewish community responds to this problem by saying things that convince no one,” he said.

Trying to pave the way forward, Yoffie suggested adopting a plan proposed by Middle East scholar David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which calls for Israel to negotiate the borders of the Palestinian state even if it is not possible now to reach an agreement on other issues. This plan, Yoffie said, would make clear that Israel made an offer, and it is now up to the Palestinians to decide if they accept it.

It was not an easy ride for Yoffie at the event. The audience did not like his statement that Israel’s blockade on Gaza is not a violation of international law, but Yoffie left the hall with the crowd applauding and received a warm embrace from Ben-Ami.

Michael Levin Mon. Oct 26, 2009

Or, see:

Rabbi Brian Walt Goldstone Transcript: Righteous in our Generation [10/23/09] Excerpt: "We’ve just uploaded the transcript of Ta’anit Tzedek’s [ ] recent rabbical conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone. As I wrote in my previous post this conversation with Judge Goldstone was extraordinary. He reflects on his growing up in South Africa under Apartheid, his reasons to take on this Fact Finding Mission in Gaza, and the evidence that led to the commission’s determination that Israeli forces had intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza. This Shabbat/Sabbath we read about Noah who the Torah describes as a righteous person in his generation. Listening to the audio or reading the transcript, you will hear a decent human being explain how he has pursued righteousness in his life."


The Magnes Zionist The Passion of Richard Goldstone [10/25/09] Excerpt: "It is truly sad, though hardly surprising, how a Goldstone-basher coalition has emerged in the last week, a coalition made up of Israeli war crimes apologists, states opposed to international humanitarian law (except when it serves their own interest), and ultra-nationalists everywhere."

Bill Pearlman Mon. Oct 26, 2009

Richard Goldstone, whether by accident of design, has aligned himself with the enemies of Israel. And by extension the Jewish people. I don't care when his bris was.

Deborah Tue. Oct 27, 2009

We may not like it, but there is no doubt Israel committed grievous war crimes in Gaza. The evidence of brutal collective punishment of the civilian population, that Goldstone stated, is simply too overwhelming. The fact that Israel continues to hold 1.5 million people in Gaza hostage in the world's largest open air prison is also simply undeniable.

The question is do we have the courage to stand up for human rights where it matters most? Unfortunately too many of us take the easy way out by attempting to discredit Goldstone (a highly respected Zionist Jew jurist) as anti-Israel! What hypocrisy!

David Tue. Oct 27, 2009


Let's be clear. Israel did nothing wrong in defending itself against thousands of rockets fired into civilian populations centers. It took great pains to warn Arabs in Gaza - through text messages and notices dropped from planes - of impending Israel attack. That put IDF soldiers at risk.

Further, the Geneva Convention is clear. It is not illegal to attack an enemy firing at you from civilian areas. It is illegal, however, to use human shields, which is what the Arabs of Gaza did during the conflict.

Geneva Conventions Protocol 1

Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977


Section 1: General Protection Against Effects of Hostilities

Chapter II: Civilians and Civilian Population

Article 50: Definition of Civilians and Civilian Population

7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.

Any violation of these prohibitions shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians, including the obligation to take the precautionary measures provided for in Article 57.

Furthermore, the Geneva Convention (article 53) specifically acknowledges that

"when combatants fire from within civilian structures or activate roadside charges from trees and fields, these structures are to be considered legitimate military targets."

Article 57: In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.

This "open air prison" as you call it was given to the Arabs to do with it as they wished. Did they build schools, centers of commerce, theaters, parks, or farms? No. Did they use that opportunity to begin the development of peaceful state along side Israel? No. They built rockets and tunnels to bring in weapons. Which group of people is really interested in peace?

Norman Tue. Oct 27, 2009

The Goldstone report is the most accurate account of human rights abuses in the Gaza war, and it's consistent with previous reports by B'Tselem, Amnesty International and major news media like the BBC.

I'm surprised at the extent of "kill the messenger" attacks and abuse directed at Goldstone. This shows that any Jew who defects from the party line on Israel will be the target of a massive attack campaign. (It also shows that they can't challenge the facts.)

Goldstone's credentials are unimpeachable. He's used to it and he can take it. But other Jews are intimidated by it. Eric Yoffie seems to be one of them. It's quite a compromise for a "dove" to approve the Gaza war, and the embargo, and call for withdrawal to the separation wall (rather than the 1967 borders). I can understand it, since Yoffie's life has been dedicated to this community that is now difficult to navigate in. But denouncing Goldstone crosses a line of integrity.

It reminds me of the Jewish Communists, who refused to criticize the U.S.S.R. -- even after Kruschev's speech. It reminds me of Paul Robeson defending Stalin, even when his own Soviet Jewish friends told him that they were being executed in show trials. Robeson chose loyalty to Stalin.

R. W. Johnson Tue. Oct 27, 2009

The UN Human Rights Council has endorsed Judge Richard Goldstone's controversial report accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the 2008-09 conflict in the Gaza Strip. The council has asked the UN Security Council to refer the report's conclusions to the International Criminal Court if the two sides fail to conduct their own investigations.

Goldstone's report has been dismissed as hopelessly one-sided not only by the Israelis but by many neutral observers, with both the European Union and United States dissenting both on its substance and its suggestion that alleged Israeli war crimes should be judged not by Israeli courts but by the International Criminal Court.

Even many Jews outside Israel are asking how Goldstone, himself a Jew, could lend himself to such an obviously biased mission mandated by a Human Rights Council that is itself full of human rights violators as well as habitual Israel-haters. Both Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson turned down the mission for that reason, after all.

Goldstone's behavior will not surprise those who have followed his career. As a young advocate in South Africa he drew criticism for the way he privately entertained the attorneys who might bring him cases: this was seen as touting for custom. Similarly, his decision to accept nomination as a judge from the apartheid regime drew criticism from many liberal lawyers who refused to accept such nomination because it meant enforcing apartheid laws.

ANC's Favorite Judge

Then, as the political situation changed, so did Goldstone. Entrusted by President F. W. de Klerk with a commission to investigate the causes of violence, Goldstone publicized much damning evidence against the apartheid regime but refused to investigate any form of violence organized by the African National Congress (ANC). This naturally made him the ANC's favorite judge.

Moreover, Goldstone, issued a dramatic press statement suggesting that the military were involved in illegal partisan behavior. De Klerk had to dismiss 23 senior military figures, though the evidence for their guilt promised by Goldstone was never actually forthcoming. The officers sued De Klerk, who had to back down and apologize.

De Klerk was furious at Goldstone's sensational use of untested evidence and, knowing that Goldstone was ambitious to succeed Boutros-Boutros Ghali as UN secretary-general, referred to him as "Richard-Richard Goldstone."

Then, to the ANC's delight, just weeks before the 1994 election Goldstone made dramatic allegations of illegal and partisan behavior against three police generals, effectively ending their careers. Yet Goldstone had made no attempt to put these allegations to the men concerned, nor allowed them to defend themselves or test the accusations through cross-examination.

Goldstone justified publicizing these untested allegations by saying it was important to give them publicity before the election. The ANC couldn't have agreed more strongly: when they won, Goldstone was given a seat on the Constitutional Court.

Heedless of the fact that the doctrine of collective guilt has been the basis of anti-Semitic campaigns down the ages, Goldstone publicly urged all whites to apologize for their collective guilt and advised younger South Africans that they must not expect top jobs because of "the sins of the fathers."

The effect of these high profile actions was to give Goldstone international fame as an icon of political correctness. Hence his appointment as prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Cutting Corners In The Hague

At the ICTY, Goldstone was a man in a hurry. "They told me at the UN in New York: if we did not have an indictment out by November 1994 we wouldn't get money that year for 1995," Goldstone admitted. "There was only one person against whom we had evidence.... He wasn't an appropriate first person to indict.... But if we didn't do it we would not have got the budget."

Indeed, it was so inappropriate that the judges in The Hague passed a motion severely censuring Goldstone. After only a year in office, Goldstone offered his job to the Canadian jurist, Louise Arbour.

Meanwhile, Goldstone hurried to secure prosecutions. Seizing upon the illegal detention and kidnapping of General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic by Muslims in Sarajevo. Goldstone immediately suggested that there were grounds for a prosecution and the men were flown to The Hague, thus breaking the rules of procedure of the ICTY, for he failed even to ask the High Court in Belgrade, which had already instituted proceedings against the two men, for a deferral of competence to the ICTY.

Realizing that he had acted illegally, Goldstone quickly changed the status of his prisoners from accused to witnesses. He then broke the rules again by indicting Djukic and thereafter suggested that the two men testify against their accomplices or face the alternative of being handed back to the Muslim authorities, who would doubtless torture them. This was indeed Krsmanovic's fate but Djukic was dying of cancer and Goldstone ultimately withdrew his indictment against him.

The NATO force's spokesman, Andrew Cummings, condemned the arrest of the two men as irresponsible and damaging to the peace process. By the time Goldstone left the ICTY, only one confession had been recorded and one trial had been completed, that of Dusko Tadic, the smallest of small fry, an obscure cafe owner accused of abusing Bosnian refugees.

Throughout his career Goldstone has been criticized for cutting corners out of excessive ambition, but in the eyes of many Jews his Gaza commission has set a new low. That a Jewish judge, barred from entering Israel for accepting a commission deliberately biased against the state, should write a report based largely on interviews with Hamas activists in order to pander to anti-Zionist opinion has meant, for many, that he has simply stepped outside the pale.

Czarkazem13 Tue. Oct 27, 2009

Whether one agrees with the Goldstone report or not, can we stop calling Jews that don't agree with us as "enemies", "anti-Semites", "self-hating-Jews", "anti-Zionists", "Israeli-haters" and any other referance that is offensive, inaccurate and damages any credible debate.

Are we Jews - especially Israeli Jews - capable of this?

Sadly I doubt it.

richard landes Tue. Oct 27, 2009

Deborah, I beg to differ. Please go to and look at our material. Goldstone's report is terribly flawed, in particular the combination of a) listening uncritically to palestinian claims which in many cases contradict even palestinian and arab sources (e.g. the terrible accusations in the abed rabbo story), and b) his systematic dismissal of the notion that hamas used the population as a human shield. it's tragic that you would read the report and make up your mind before consulting the criticisms. like goldstone, you engage in a "rush to judgment."

vildechaye Wed. Oct 28, 2009

I wish those who attack the critics of Goldstone's report would actually address the substance of their criticism. All I ever see are references to goldstone's impeccable credentials and how the report tallies with other reports by other human rights groups. I have read some extremely cogent critiques of the Goldstone report -- none of which refer to him as a "self-hating Jew" by the way -- and yet nobody ever addresses the substance of those critiques.

For what it's worth, I think Goldstone was duped. He never should have accepted an assignment from an organization so biased against israel, and it was understandable and predictable that israel would not allow an inquiry commissioned by UNHRC access or information. all the flaws of the Goldstone report stem from these simple facts.

Intead of harping on about Goldstone's impeccable credentials or how other (also clearly biased) human rights agencies tally with Goldstone, the report's defenders might be more acceptable if they actually dealt with the substance of the critiques. ... he never should have accepted "evidence" so easily manip

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