After being called out by a Jewish foundation that advocates for disability inclusion, Knesset member and former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman today apologized for comments he made calling Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu “autistic” for supporting a two-state solution.
“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,” Lieberman said.
The Ruderman Family Foundation—which seeks the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Jewish community and has offices in both Boston and Israel—had demanded an apology from Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. After Netanyahu on Wednesday told European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that he supports a “vision of two states for two peoples,” Lieberman said on Israel Radio, “Anyone who thinks going back to the 1967 lines will solve the conflict is autistic.”
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, had said in a statement, “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 Lieberman’s apology, Ruderman said, “We hope this was a teaching moment for MK Lieberman that it is highly inappropriate to use a disability in a derogatory manner. We are gratified that he has publicly apologized and distanced himself from the remark.” In the past, the foundation has publicly criticized disability slurs used by White House officials and a CNN anchor.
Lieberman’s initial comments that criticized Netanyahu had also targeted the prime minister’s planned meeting with Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List, an alliance of Arab political parties that currently holds 13 seats in the the Israeli Knesset.
“Netanyahu’s meeting with Odeh, one of the sharpest opponents of Israel being the state of the Jewish people, gives legitimacy to forces working to destroy Israel from within and gives a stamp of approval to the fifth column working inside the Israeli parliament,” Lieberman said.