What Gives With Senator Joe?

Editorial - The Jewish Press [NY] - September 26, 1997

We have long been critical of Connecticut's United States Senator Joseph Lieberman over his adamant refusal to go to bat for the hapless Jonathan Pollard who languishes in solitary confinement in a federal prison. To be sure, we know all the arguments about Pollard's crimes and how he supposedly undermined the national security of the United States. But the arguments on the other side are equally well known. Pollard's crimes were committed on behalf of an ally, Israel, and Pollard has received the most Draconian punishment of any spy convicted of espionage in the past 25 years on behalf of enemies of the U.S. involving far greater damage to the U.S.!

And as we have often noted, because Senator Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who is well respected by his Senate colleagues, he is looked to for guidance on this issue. In short, if Senator Lieberman were so disposed, persuasive arguments to release Pollard are certainly there for the making.

But we were also struck this week with some backpedaling by Senator Lieberman on Israel. Several weeks ago we welcomed the news that he had joined some of his colleagues in sending a letter to President Clinton which referred to Yasir Arafat as a "villain" and criticized America's Middle East policy for its "evenhandedness," which has become a euphemism for disregarding Arafat's noncompliance with Oslo. The sentiments in that letter generally reflected the overwhelming majority view in Congress and reportedly played a significant part in shifting Secretary Madeleine Albright's focus to anti-terrorism on her recent Middle East trip.

However, a spokesman for Senator Lieberman now says that he "regretted" parts of the letter, and that Mr. Lieberman had been in general agreement with the Clinton Middle East policy when the letter was circulated. The pro-peace process Israel Policy forum quickly expressed its gratitude for this turn of events because Senator Lieberman was looked to as a source of guidance on the Middle East.

In all candor, we find it hard to understand how otherwise rational people can have a problem with the Netanyahu policy of insisting on a cessation of terror as the principal condition for moving forward on Oslo and also seeking PLO compliance with the other requirements of Oslo. Isn't that what the Oslo agreement called for? How is it rally possible for people to justify Arafat's failure to deal with terrorism on the ground that he lacks the power? Was Israel informed that it could not count on performance by its "peace partner?"

Why would Senator Lieberman seek to line up on the side of those who want to dilute Israeli policy by pushing for cessation of settlement expansion and Har Homa-like actions? For Heaven's sake, Arafat has complied with none of the provisions of Oslo, while Israel has scrupulously complied with them all! Does anyone really believe that further Israeli concessions will induce Arafat's compliance? Certainly, everything that has transpired to this point compels the conclusion that it will not.

In any event, because of his position, we deem Senator Lieberman's stance on the Middle East - as well as with respect to Jonathan Pollard - particularly troublesome. He comes to Jewish contributors and institutions for support and yet is nowhere to be found on these two key issues. Perhaps such support should not be as easily forthcoming as heretofore.