While Israel continues its war against the Gaza Strip, over 100 former J Street staffers and representatives from its network of university groups are pushing their former organization to join mounting calls for a ceasefire.
The letter comes in response to J Street’s push for a congressional resolution that pledges unconditional support to Israel’s war in Gaza. The group, according to a report in The Intercept, is threatening to withhold its endorsement from Democrats who refuse to sign on. The resolution — led by Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Ranking Member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and now backed by more than 420 members of Congress — makes no mention of Palestinian civilians, of which Israel has now killed over 2600, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
“As former staff and student representatives of J Street — many of whom are mourning the losses of family and friends in both Israel and Palestine — we condemn the organization’s alignment with pro-war forces in America,” the signatories wrote. “J Street’s mission was to be a bulwark against the forces in American politics that seek to entrench the occupation and blockade, and lack any regard for Palestinian lives.”
“With the imminent threat of mass atrocities and civilian casualties in Gaza, J Street should join leading Israeli and Palestinian civil society groups by immediately calling for a ceasefire and de-escalation,” the former staffers said in the letter, which is below in full, “and urging elected officials to do the same.”
“In this defining moment, we are looking to J Street for leadership and it is failing all of us.”
Some of the former staff worked with J Street as far back as 2008, shortly after its founding as a self-proclaimed “pro-peace, pro-Israel group.” Some were involved with J Street as recently as this year, and many worked with the group for five years, some for more than a decade.
“In this defining moment, we are looking to J Street for leadership and it is failing all of us,” said Zoe Goldblum, who was the president of the group’s campus branch, J Street U, from 2016 to 2017. “J Street should throw its weight behind calls for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire, instead of efforts like the McCaul–Meeks resolution which beats the drums of war while Palestinians in Gaza face threats of genocide.”
Goldblum, who signed the letter, continued, “Intentionally or not, J Street is pushing American political leadership more firmly towards unconditional support for war.”
Progressives Avoid “Ceasefire” Language
On Friday, leading progressives on Capitol Hill put forward a joint letter urging the Biden administration to appeal for Israel to follow international law, minimize civilian casualties, and ensure that Gazans have access to food, water, and electricity, which Israel, which controls the territory’s borders, cut off in advance of its bombing campaign. (Reports suggest that Israel resumed pumping water into Gaza on Sunday.)
The letter, which was led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Mark Pocan, D-Wisc., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., omitted any call for a ceasefire, sources involved said, because doing so would have reduced the number of signers down from 55 to a dozen or fewer. Progressives were also concerned J Street might oppose even the watered down version. J Street ultimately supported the letter.
Given vocal opposition from some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to even mention Palestinian civilian casualties, the letter was sent from the personal offices of the members instead of under the auspices of the CPC.
In a 2021 round of violence, J Street struck a different tone. Israel was bombing Gaza after Hamas launched rocket in the wake of protests against the eviction of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Israeli police storming the city’s Al Aqsa mosque compound. Amid the conflagration, J Street called for an “immediate ceasefire” and addressing of “the root causes of this conflict, including the ongoing occupation.” In that case, the eruption of violence hadn’t been sparked by events like Hamas’s surprise attack last weekend, which killed some 1,300 Israelis, mostly civilians.
At J Street’s December 2022 national convention, President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited Biden’s push to de-escalate the year before. “When hostilities between Israel and militants in Gaza escalated in May 2021, President Biden led intensive behind-the-scenes efforts that helped produce a ceasefire in 11 days,” he said to applause.
Today, Israel’s campaign on Gaza has remained largely unchecked by the United States and the West more broadly — even as it commits alleged war crimes. In its airstrikes, Israel has boasted of its use of 6,000 bombs to raze entire city blocks and was accused by rights groups of using banned white phosphorus munitions.
On Thursday, in advance of an expected ground operation, Israel ordered 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to leave the area within 24 hours — a task human rights organizations and the United Nations called dangerous and impossible. Some 70 of the Gazan civilians who heeded the orders to flee, traversing what Israel deemed a “safe route,” were reportedly bombed and killed by Israel. Israel has also killed at least seven journalists and numerous UN workers and medics.
Read the full text of the letter:
J Street Alumni Letter October 2023
As former staff and student representatives of J Street — many of whom are mourning the losses of family and friends in both Israel and Palestine — we condemn the organization’s alignment with pro-war forces in America. J Street’s threat to withdraw their endorsement of Congresspeople who refused to support a one-sided and incendiary House resolution represents a turn for the organization, which we cannot abide. J Street’s mission was to be a bulwark against the forces in American politics that seek to entrench the occupation and blockade, and lack any regard for Palestinian lives. J Street was founded to push for diplomatic solutions over military solutions — which time and again endanger both Israeli and Palestinian lives. This move represents an abject and disappointing failure of that mission.
With the imminent threat of mass atrocities and civilian casualties in Gaza, J Street should join leading Israeli and Palestinian civil society groups by immediately calling for a ceasefire and de-escalation and urging elected officials to do the same.