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November 27, 2014 | 5th Kislev 5775

Reform Jewish Movement Saddened by Deaths in Flotilla Clash

Statement issued in response to today's violent confrontation between the Israeli Defense Forces and the activist flotilla of ships destined for Gaza.

Contact: Sean Thibault
202.387.2800 sthibault@urj.org

NEW YORK, NY, May 31, 2010 - In response to today's violent confrontation between the Israeli Defense Forces and the activist flotilla of ships destined for Gaza, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by the events off the coast of Gaza.  We greatly regret the loss of life that resulted from the clashes between activists on the flotilla and Israeli forces.

We note that the Hamas government, which is committed to Israel's destruction and which has long been responsible for attacks against Israeli forces and civilian centers, cannot expect to have open borders.  We also note that humanitarian aid sent to Gaza in the past has often been used as a cover for delivering weapons and military supplies.  In light of these factors, Israel has responded as a sovereign nation must, by exercising her right to self-defense.

We urge the Government of the United States to work with Israel in addressing Israel's security concerns while examining as well the plight of those living in Gaza who require additional humanitarian assistance.  Recent events underscore the urgent need for real progress in addressing both sets of concerns. 

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The Union for Reform Judaism is the congregational arm of North American Reform Judaism. The Union strives to create and sustain vibrant Jewish congregations as the center of Jewish life. With some 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 affiliated congregations, the Union supports the largest movement in modern Jewish life today.

 

Comments

William Fudeman

June 1, 2010
07:15 PM

Chair, Social action committee, Congregation Tikkun v'Or

Rabbi Yoffie's opinion may agree with the propaganda wing of the Likud government of Israel, but falls short of analysis of many sources, including "Haaretz", and dozens of rabbis who recognize that the entire Israeli commando raid was unnecessary and illegal. The ongoing blockade of the civilian population of Gaza is wrong, preventing humanitarian supplies from landing in Gaza was wrong- honestly, searches for weapons could have been done on land. When will the URJ choose rabbinic leadership that reflects basic Jewish values of respect for human rights? Rabbi Yoffie sounds like a politician, not a rabbi.

  Reply

Gay Griffith, Niskayuna, NY

June 2, 2010
02:21 PM

RE: Chair, Social action committee, Congregation Tikkun v'Or


Originally posted by Anonymous User: Rabbi Yoffie's opinion may agree with the propaganda wing of the Likud government of Israel, but falls short of analysis of many sources, including "Haaretz", and dozens of rabbis who recognize that the entire Israeli commando raid was unnecessary and illegal. The ongoing blockade of the civilian population of Gaza is wrong, preventing humanitarian supplies from landing in Gaza was wrong- honestly, searches for weapons could have been done on land. When will the URJ choose rabbinic leadership that reflects basic Jewish values of respect for human rights? Rabbi Yoffie sounds like a politician, not a rabbi. F.Y.I. Haaretz is FULL of their own propaganda. As a 3-time survivor of Palestinian Terrorism, I think you are seeing this through rose-colored glasses. The flotilla knew what it was in for when they attempted to break the blockade. Also, you fail to mention that Hamas has been shelling the south of Israel several times a week, EACH and EVERY WEEK. Of course, this is "forgotten" on mainstream American News, but I listen to Galei Zahal daily, and it is amazing how much news is "omitted" daily in the US. Makes for a very one-sided perspective. It is interesting that they are now refusing to accept the "humanitarian supplies" which now sit at the Israeli/Gaza Border. It's time the bleeding hearts wake up and realized that Hamas are animals. They don't understand peaceful and/or civilized ways and still believe in the "into the ocean mentality". The world needs to support Israel as the only stable, democratic country in the Middle East. It also is one of the few that has equal rights for woman! Israel has every right to protect itself and to make sure weapons are not smuggled in under the guise of humanitarian aid.

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Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

June 2, 2010
06:30 PM

Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin

What is wrong about expressing sadness and angst over the loss of life? What is 'political' about rightly declaring the Hamas-sponsored provocations of the so-called 'activists' what they are, acts of possible terrorism? Rabbi Yoffie's measured statement does the right thing, calling for actions that will aid both sides.

Calling the raid on the flotilla 'illegal' does not make it so, and paragraphs of maritime law seem to suggest that breaking a legally declared naval blockade is permissible. According to the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, dated 12 June 1994, when vessels "are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search or capture," they may be boarded and stopped, and then diverted to another port.

We can debate the wisest course of action for non-violent protests, but the provocateurs could have made their point by acceding to the IDF's request to go to and Israeli port, and by off-loading there. Their purposeful foray into life-threatening behavior is a poor reflection on their intentions at best, and a baiting of the Israeli military at worst. The fact that Israel took the bait is, indeed, very problematic, but for Rabbi Yoffie to go further than he did would be inappropriate for his role as President of the Union for Reform Judaism. I applaud him for his statement.

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zelda gamson

June 2, 2010
08:38 PM

Former chair, Social Action Committee, Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center

I am very disappointed the Eric Yoffie's statement and by the recent positions taken by the leadership of URJ with respect to Israel. The URJ leadership should align itself with the Israeli critics of the actions of the IDF on the high seas and of the Israeli government's blockade of Gaza, such as Amos Oz, David Grossman and others. (See Oz's op-ed in the NY Times today.) It is truly odd to see the representatives of liberal Judaism, who are scarcely acknowledged in Israel, supporting the Likud/Shas/Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox/Russian nationalist coalition who are running Israel into the ground. The best we can do for Israel is to speak from the moral teachings of Judaism as taught in our Reform congregations. Anything less compromises the US reform movement and de-legitimizes it as a voice for liberal Judaism.

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Gerald Coles/Kolsky

June 3, 2010
08:33 PM

Reform congregant

Sadly Rabbi Yoffie's statement supporting the Likud party's justification of this attack on an unarmed flotilla fails to accord with a growing consensus expressed by the editors of the New York Times following the event: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown time and again that he prefers bullying and confrontation over diplomacy." Where is Jewish compassion in supporting the blockade of Gaza? As Amnesty International reports, "the blockade mainly hits the most vulnerable, such as children (who make up more than half of the population in Gaza), the elderly, the sick." More than 60 per cent of households in Gaza are currently "food insecure." Continued malnutrition is producing an increasing percentage of "stunted growth" among children. Is this part of Israel's "right to self-defense" that justifies the blockade and Israel's attack on ships carrying nothing but humanitarian aid? There is not a stitch of evidence suggesting that the flotilla carried anything but food, medicine, and similar relief materials. Nor has the Israeli government claimed otherwise. As leaders around the world and even within Israel have said, this recent Likud employment of terror is part of the cruel, relentless punishment of the destitute people of Gaza and self-defeating for Israel. Moreover, the flotilla was in international waters, making the attack illegal by every standard of international law. Does a claim of "self-defense" justify Israel ignoring these laws and acting like a rogue state? Several commentators have noted the parallels between this Israeli attack on the flotilla and the British assault on Exodus 1947 and the inverted logic used to defend the former and criticize the latter. As for the claim that Hamas is "committed to Israel's destruction," certainly one would prefer leadership other than Hamas, but this assertion ignores Hamas's steps toward a peace accord. For example, as the Associated Press has reported, it has offered to accept a peace agreement that provided a Palestinian state at the 1967 borders. It also offered Israel a 10-year truce, "as implicit proof of recognition of Israel if [Israel] withdrew from all lands it seized in the 1967 Middle East War." These offers are not all that Israel would want in negotiating with Hamas, but they certainly contradict a portion of the Likud claims about why it will not begin to negotiate a peaceful, two-state accord with the current Palestinian leadership. Unjustified U.S. Jewish support of reprehensible Israeli state policy serves neither Israel nor Judaism.

  Reply

Jacob Gore

June 4, 2010
11:15 AM

Member of a Reform congregation

The statement is right on. Israel had offered, before the flotilla even sailed, to receive them in Ashdod and pass the supplies through the regular land route. The organizers refused, proving that humanitarian aid was NOT their goal. International law clearly permits the boarding of ships who try to run a blockade, so the action was clearly legal. It is no coincidence that it was people on the Turkish ship who tried to overwhelm the commandos: Turkey's Islamist government has been stoking anti-Israeli fires for years, including running libelous TV shows. An Al-Jazeera journalist gave an interview that initially, the "activists" overpowered four soldiers and dragged them below deck. One can argue, in hindsight, that the commandos should have had riot control options better than just paint guns on one extreme and live ammunition on the other, but they did what they had to do under the circumstances. Facts are facts, even when Likud is the one pointing them out.

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Josh

June 4, 2010
12:06 PM

Member of a Reform Congregation

Thank you for your refreshing reality check. It would be literally suicidal for Israel to allow Hamas to have an open border. Note the blockade was a joint blockade with Egypt. While the blockade is necessary, Israel long ago should have recognized that only weapons needs to be banned and should have taken steps to open the borders to all other goods. Suppressing the economy in Gaza is only bolstering the extremists.

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Member of a Reform Congregation

June 4, 2010
01:35 PM

Alas, it was too much to hope that Rabbi Yoffie would take a forthright stand and condemn Israel's actions. There is a famous quote from Talleyrand, referring to Napoleaon's execution of the Duke of Enghien "It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder." Israel's actions were both a crime and a blunder.

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Jennifer Johnson

June 4, 2010
04:09 PM

I applaud this statement. Frankly it nauseates me that there are American Jews that are buying into the antisemitic propaganda that paints the IDF as some kind of murderous monster. No one wants to see loss of life, but any serious look into the source of the "peace activists" reveals terrorist roots, and Israel has every right to defend itself by boarding this vessel with special forces. Israel is not perfect, but in this exact set of circumstances, any other sane nation would have done the same.

Israel is an island of Judaism in an antisemitic region, and an Island of freedom in a region of terrorism. It truly boggles my mind that these "Jews are evil" lies are swallowed by the western world. Some of the anti-Israel rhetoric out there smacks of the same kind of rhetoric that has historically existed every other time the world has started to go genocidal against the Jews.

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Gerald Coles/Kolsky

June 4, 2010
05:10 PM

RE: Member of a Reform congregation

Making a judgment about this incident requires, at the least, working with correct facts. For example, the Israeli government has persistently been minimizing the extent of its violence by talking glibly about the "paintball guns" the commandos used in the initial attack.

In contrast to this semi-jocular portrayal, Reuters reported that the captain of the ship described (1) the Israeli military that surrounded the boat firing at the boat before the commandos even arrived from helicopters; (2) this firing was accompanied by threats to sink the ship if it did not stop; (3) the captain said, "They started shooting directly at Mavi Marmara. They didn't care if it was the front or back of the ship."; (4) The commandos pointed real guns at the heads of the captain and his crew; (5) the captain, as well as passengers quoted in AP articles, described the initial use of plastic bullets and tear gas in the attack.

Yes, facts are facts, but now that the Israeli government has begun to lose control of the narrative, evidence has already begun to discredit its "paintball" gloss of what actually occurred.

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Bob Michael

June 7, 2010
03:05 PM

RE: Member of a Reform congregation

Thanks, Rabbi Yoffie for a statement that accurately expresses our Reform Jewish values. Any violent death is a tragedy especially when there is no need for it to happen. But Israel has the duty and the right as a sovereign state to protect its citizens' safety just as we expect our country to do for us and our families. The blockade is legal by international law and a vital necessity against a hate-driven political ideology. I am very grateful to the IDF for protecting Israel.

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