(October 13, 2020 / JNS) Matt Lieberman comes from a prolific political family as his father, Sen. Joe Lieberman, served as a longtime U.S. senator from Connecticut and ran as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in the 2000 presidential election. Had he won, he would have been the first Jewish person in the highest echelons of the U.S. government and a Torah-observant Jew to boot.
After two years practicing law, the younger Lieberman, 50, became a teacher and a principal at a Jewish day school, and eventually started a business to provide health care to families, small-business owners and union members.
Lieberman is running in a special election in Georgia to serve the remaining two years of the term of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). Incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp after Isakson retired in 2019 for health reasons, faces off against GOP Rep. Doug Collins and eight Democrats, including Lieberman and pastor Raphael Warnock.
In accordance with Georgia electoral law, if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held in January.
On Nov. 3, all candidates for Isakson’s seat, regardless of partisan affiliation, will be on the ballot. According to many polls, Warnock is the Democrat most likely to advance to the expected run-off unless the January election ends up being between Loeffler and Collins—a possibility with Lieberman playing spoiler to Warnock’s chances. Otherwise, the special election would likely be between the two Georgia Republican members of Congress.
A single father, Lieberman has two daughters, Tess and Willie.
JNS talked with Lieberman by Skype on Oct. 9. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Why are you running, and how are you different than your father politically and ideologically when he was in the Senate?
A: I’m running as a fed-up citizen of Georgia. We have been living here in this state with senators who in the most basic way don’t represent us. They don’t represent our priorities and values on the most important issues, and I don’t think politics as usual or politicians as usual will get the job done for us. I think they’ll just kowtow to whoever seems to be the most politically threatening force instead of fighting for our priorities and values. That’s why I’m running.
How I’m different than my father politically and ideologically when he was in the Senate? I don’t know. I leave that to other people to figure out. It’s not something that I think about really. I leave it to the voters.
Q: You mention senators not representing Georgia’s values. As it pertains to the Jewish and pro-Israel community, especially in Georgia, what does that mean? Have Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler not represented the Jewish and pro-Israel communities in Georgia well?
A: I would say that is probably an issue where their positions are in sync with a, thankfully, strong majority of Georgian sentiment. My critique is focused beyond that issue, to be sure.
Q: What issues specifically?
A: If you look at issues like doing anything to work towards universal health care, such as favoring a public option, as I do. If you look at favoring common-sense gun reform. If you look at accepting climate change as real and the human impact on it. If you look at fighting for voting rights in a real way. All of those issues—and there are more are issues where my position is where most Georgians are. Ultimately, I or any Democrat will be in a strong position to defeat either Rep. Doug Collins or Loeffler one on one in January because, politics aside, the Democratic candidate is just going to be more in step with most voters in Georgia on most of the important issues.
Q: What makes you different from your Democratic opponents, like Pastor Raphael Warnock?
A: Warnock, until probably a couple of months ago, he didn’t have an issues section at all on his website. He has diligently avoided joint appearances. We will have two debates later this month, so perhaps we’ll flesh some things out then. I would guess that we are similar on the majority of issues, as we both are Democrats. I know that our position on school choice may be different. I believe he is opposed to more public school choice. I believe he is opposed to scholarship programs that enable parents from poor families to choose a private school if they want, so I think that’s a difference.
Although he has apparently of late come around to a pro-Israel position, it shouldn’t be overlooked that his religious role model is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and at exactly the same time U.S. President Barack Obama was distancing himself from Wright’s statements and condemning Wright’s statements, Warnock was, dafka, running to Jeremiah Wright to defend him. I think that is of relevance to Georgia voters and perhaps Jewish voters. Warnock’s religious role model responded immediately after 9/11 by saying that “America’s chickens were coming home to roost.” I think that’s a difference, that’s certainly not my point of view.
The other big difference is that, and this goes for Collins and Loeffler as well: Of the four top candidates, I’m the only one who shows up on Day One in Washington who can say that I’m working for the people of Georgia and only for the people of Georgia. Each of the other three is only in this race because someone put them there. And for this reason, Loeffler, Collins and Warnock will all have divided loyalty between the people of Georgia and one or two powerful patrons in Washington or Atlanta. The people of Georgia deserve something better than that. They deserve someone they know who will be there, fighting for them and for them only.
Q: What part of President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel agenda do you agree with? For example, do you agree with the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran?
A: I agree with the move of the embassy to Jerusalem. I agree that the nuclear deal with Iran, the JCPOA, was not a good deal, and I think that clearly the region has progressed to a place of greater stability since the U.S. withdrew from it [in May 2018]. I think the region and the world will be in a better place of greater strength than renegotiating that deal so that Iran is not able to export and finance mayhem, even if not nuclear, conventional mayhem as they had been doing aggressively since the plan was put in place. And you have to give them credit for the agreements that clearly the United States has played a big part in putting together between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. I hope there are more.
Q: Did you agree with the reimposition of sanctions and additional sanctions the Trump administration has placed on Iran?
A: Generally, yes. I’m not going to say that I’m signed onto the “maximum pressure” campaign, but Iran is a dangerous rogue state and agent of instability in the region, and I don’t believe that additional sanctions—absent a follow-up effort towards renegotiation—are a good idea. But I don’t think they’re a bad idea as part of laying the groundwork for renegotiation of arms, as well as hostility between Iran and other countries.
Q: But you supported the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal, correct?
A: I think it was a bad deal and withdrawing from it has left the region in a better place. I have not been in the Senate, so I have not been privy to the multiple layers of intelligence that go into these decisions, but I can say in hindsight there have been positive consequences from withdrawing, yes.
Q: How can we best fight anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses?
A: We need to be vigilant. We need to call out things as they happen. We as adults and young adults, we as parents, communicating to our children, can’t communicate a message to go through life with bowed heads. We need to call out anti-Semitism wherever it appears, and we need to encourage our children to be strong in the face of it. It’s something that’s always been with us. It’s a form of bigotry and hatred that will never go away, but that doesn’t mean that we need to allow it to fester or grow as it seems to have been and the biggest thing we can do is really calling it out.
Q: Would you support anti-BDS legislation, even though a good number of other Democrats say that such measures go against the First Amendment?
A: I would support anti-BDS legislation.
Q: What do you say to your fellow Democrats who say anti-BDS legislation goes against the First Amendment?
A: I think it’s a stupid point. It doesn’t go against the First Amendment. It doesn’t do a darn thing to the First Amendment to say that you’re not going to support the boycott. The boycotters can still boycott. Their First Amendment rights are still intact. That doesn’t mean you need to support it.
Q: What’s your reaction to Democrats and those who are for conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel?
A: As those conditions have been outlined, I’m against that. I’m opposed to placing conditions on our support for Israel.
Q: What’s your reaction to Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), whose re-election campaigns were endorsed by House Speaker Pelosi?
A: Clearly, they could be stronger in valuing the American-Israeli relationship. Generally speaking, I think they are each proud members of the extreme left-wing of the Democratic Party. They don’t represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party nationally or in Congress.
Q: Has the Democratic Party become anti-Semitic and anti-Israel? There’s the notion that this party is no longer your father’s party.
A: The Democratic Party is not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. Virtually, every vote that comes up, there are strong bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate favoring the American-Israeli alliance. Are there a handful of voices saying things that are of concern? Yes. I would say at this point, that is more of a warning flare than a problem.
Q: On the far-right, what’s your reaction to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s all but guaranteed to be elected from a congressional district in your home state, despite her support for the QAnon conspiracy theory and for making controversial, even bigoted, statements?
A: There you have the extreme, extreme element in the Republican Party that the Republicans refuse to speak out against. In fact, Doug Collins and Kelly Loeffler, who I’m running against, have congratulated her on her victory. And they should be ashamed because as they endorsed her, they are also at least complicit. It’s at least an implicit endorsement of her various statements and positions that are disturbing and way out there.
Q: Many have called for you to drop out of the race. With less than a month left, do you plan to still be in the race?
A: I plan to be in the race. There’s still a lot of undecided voters. There’s still a lot of soft support on the Democratic side. We’ve got three weeks to go.
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