Q&A: Joseph Lieberman

As an observant Jew, Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 has made the security of Israel a central tenet in his foreign policy platform.

Representing Connecticut during his fourth and final term, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee drew over 80 students and faculty to Linsly-Chittenden Hall Wednesday night for a discussion sponsored by Yale Friends of Israel, or YFI, and the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale about bipartisan support for the Jewish state. While he described Congress as “very divided and dysfunctional” in a climate of “historic changes,” he said his colleagues are united in their desire to maintain robust American-Israeli relations, particularly in light of Iran’s mounting nuclear threat and the rocky democratization of countries in the Middle East.

A history of shared values among Israel and the U.S. — including democracy, rule of law, humanitarian ideals and devotion to faith — keep what Lieberman called a tradition of “Christian Zionism” alive in America.

“The American people support Israel and care about its security,” Lieberman said, claiming that bipartisan support for the Israeli state is a true reflection of public opinion. “There is a real sense of affinity between these two countries.”

He said the U.S.-Israel relationship has a profound impact on international security as a whole. Close allies of the United States continue to scrutinize its foreign policy with regard to a nuclear-armed Iran and potential support of an Israeli military strike, Lieberman added.

“It worries [our allies],” Lieberman said. “If we don’t stand by Israel in times of crisis, will we stand by them?”

Lieberman also regards Iran as a source of cyberterrorism. He said he believes the Iranian government is behind recent attacks on the cybersystems of major U.S. banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup. In July, he reintroduced a bipartisan compromise to protect the private sector’s digital infrastructure and prevent a “cyber 9/11 attack.”

Lieberman said that global economic sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy, citing a unanimous Senate vote to pressure the central bank of Iran and a bipartisan resolution for the “containment” of a nuclear Iran. But he added that options for diplomacy are dwindling and military intervention must remain on the negotiating table.

“Sometimes the best way to achieve peace is by preparing for war,” Lieberman said.

However, Lieberman continues to support diplomatic efforts to quell Israeli-Palestinian tensions. He said he supports a two-state solution — which would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel — because he sees “no other solution” to ending instability in the region. Though he is a leading advocate of Israel in the Senate, he said he has interacted with leaders on both sides of the debate over Israeli policy who appreciate his desire to hear their case and mediate.

Danielle Ellison ’15, an organizer of the discussion and president of YFI, said she liked Lieberman’s point that support for Israel was “not just a political calculation” on behalf of legislators. Lieberman said during his talk that American public opinion of Israel is instead based off a “pervasive ethic” of acceptance for different cultures.

Emily Feldstein ’16 said she appreciated how the senator “framed the conflict in the context of a larger Middle East peace picture,” which she said was “less ideological and more pragmatic.” David Lilienfeld ’15 added that Lieberman made a “compelling” case for “mutually shared values” between the United States and Israel.

Lieberman was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000 against former President George Bush ’68 and former Vice President Dick Cheney.