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Avigdor Liberman

The JewishPress.com reported earlier today that former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was irate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was about to meet with Ayman Odeh, the head of the Israeli Arab Joint List of parties.

Liberman, speaking in an interview on state-run Voice of Israel radio, accused Netanyahu of flip-flopping on the issue of support for a two-state solution. That outrage may be justified as Liberman bills himself as adamantly nationalist. However, the language the former foreign minister used was deeply insensitive, and he has since been called on it by members of Israel’s disability rights movement.

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The specific phrase used by Liberman which called down demands for an apology, was the use of the term “autistic” to describe behavior Liberman meant to suggest was not smart.

What Liberman said about Netanyahu was: “Anyone who thinks going back to the 1967 lines will solve the conflict is autistic.”

Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a non-partisan organization dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Israelis and American Jews and to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the broader society, released this response:

I call on Member of Knesset Avigdor Lieberman to apologize for using the term ‘autistic’ as an insult directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Millions of people around the world and thousands of people in Israel are autistic.  By using the word ‘autistic’ as an insult, MK Lieberman has deeply hurt the autism community.  The term for a disability should never be used in a crude and derogatory manner.

If Mr. Lieberman had an autistic child, how would he like it if his child heard a highly visible public figure like himself use autism as cudgel against an adversary?

After the Ruderman Family Foundation issued its statement, it was learned that Liberman reportedly stated: “Today I said in a radio interview that ‘anyone who thinks going back to the ’67 borders would solve the dispute has autism.’ Of course I didn’t mean in any way to offend autistic people, but wanted to illustrate the unwillingness of some people to accept certain realities about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I apologize if anyone was hurt.”

The Ruderman Family Foundation and many others are gratified that Liberman realized he had to apologize for his insensitive statement.

As Jay Ruderman pointed out, “it is highly inappropriate to use a disability in a derogatory manner.”

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

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