Legitimizing Lieberman?


The scheduled appearance in New York of Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s controversial new deputy prime minister, is expected to bring many Jewish leaders with tough questions for him to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations next Wednesday. But this week, Americans for Peace Now, slammed the conference itself for sponsoring the appearance of the man who advocates stripping Israeli Arabs citizens of their citizenship.

“We are concerned that the invitation may be seen as legitimization, by the conference [and, by implication, by the Jewish community] of what Mr. Lieberman stands for,” APN wrote conference leaders Malcolm Hoenlein and Harold Tanner.

Noting that Jewish leaders are consistently quick, “as we should be,” to denounce Arab, European or American political bigots, APN leaders Franklin Fisher, Debra DeLee, Martin Bresler and Mark Rosenblum wrote: “Treating Mr. Lieberman as we do any other Israeli dignitary not only sends a message that the American Jewish community applies a double standard to Jews and non-Jews; it also sends the message that our community tolerates Mr. Lieberman’s intolerant worldview and is not concerned that this man’s presence in the Israeli cabinet threatens Israel’s security.

“We urge the conference to assert these concerns when meeting with Mr. Lieberman,” the APN leaders wrote.

But Hoenlein, the conference’s executive vice president, termed it “silly” to argue that the conference’s decision to offer Lieberman a podium constituted endorsement, perceived or real.

“We have speakers with such a broad range of views,” said Hoenlein. Last week, he noted, Ophir Pines-Paz, the Labor Party cabinet minister who resigned his post to protest Lieberman’s appointment, was scheduled to address the conference, though an airport strike in Israel prevented his trip at the last minute. Labor Party senior minister Shimon Peres did address the conference recently, he said.

“We have people from the far left to the right,” he said. “I have not heard anyone object to any of them.”

As for APN’s demand that the conference take a stand of its own when Lieberman’s comes calling, he said, “They’re welcome to come and raise those concerns. The Presidents Conference is its member organizations. The people there will no doubt raise these issues.”