By Marc Perelman
24 November 2006
In a further indication of his acceptance into the
political mainstream, controversial right-wing Israeli
politician and newly minted government minister Avigdor
Lieberman will be hosted next month in New York by the
most influential umbrella organization of American Jewish
The leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu
party, Lieberman is best known for his proposal to
transfer part of Israel's Arab population by turning over
territory within the 1967 border to the Palestinians. But
he is slated to speak about Iran on December 12, when he
addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations in his capacity as deputy prime
minister in charge of strategic threats.
In recent years, leading liberals, as well as some
prominent centrists, have claimed that the Presidents
Conference was tilting toward the right. Yet the decision
to host Lieberman, a pariah among Israeli doves, has not
drawn any public objections from members of the
conference. Lieberman is also scheduled to appear in front
of the hawkish Middle East Forum, a think tank run by
conservative scholar Daniel Pipes.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the outspoken liberal voice who is
president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that it
was a "good idea" for the Presidents Conference to offer
Lieberman the opportunity to explain his views and hear
the voices of the American Jewish community.
"I would never object to the conference bringing an
Israeli government minister," Yoffie told the Forward.
"This is part of their job as long as the policy is
applied to the full range of the political spectrum."
Yoffie, who met Lieberman in Israel before he became a
minister, said next month's meeting would be helpful,
since it would expose Lieberman to the same diverging
opinions he faces in Israel. According to Yoffie, the
invitation does not represent an endorsement or the
granting of legitimacy to Lieberman and his views.
"We wouldn't want to give him the impression that we deem
his extremist views as acceptable to the conference, to
American Jews and to the American government," Yoffie
Lieberman's party captured 11 seats in the last Knesset
elections, and was recently brought into the national
unity government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Last month, Olmert said that the inclusion of Lieberman
did not represent an endorsement of his controversial
platform regarding Israeli Arabs. The plan, initially
introduced in 2004 as a response to the unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, advocated
by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, would entail the
transfer of Israeli territories with high Arab populations
abutting the 1967 armistice line and require any remaining
Israeli Arab to take a loyalty oath to the Jewish state.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Lieberman previously
served in the 1990s as chief of staff to then-prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party. Yoffie
said that Lieberman was more complex than the "wild-eyed
lunatic" image conveyed by some of his recent statements.
Still, the leader of Reform Judaism said that he intended
to use the meeting to press the government minister on his
"very extreme" views of Israeli Arabs and on his
statements that Israel should deal with Hamas in the same
ruthless manner in which Russia has been putting down the
rebellion in its restive southern region of Chechnya.
"This is deeply offensive, because even the U.S.
government has expressed concerns over Russia's tactics in
Chechnya," Yoffie said. "This slash-and-burn approach is
at odds with the democratic standards of Israel."