OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

The quintessential authenticity of Joe Lieberman

The late senator was a man of integrity and faith.

Joe Lieberman, a former U.S. senator and former vice presidential nominee, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on May 21, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Joe Lieberman, a former U.S. senator and former vice presidential nominee, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on May 21, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein
Farley Weiss and Leonard Grunstein are authors of the new book Because It’s Just and Right: The Untold Back-Story of the U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The late Senator Joseph Lieberman was an extraordinary person and an inspiration to us all.

Besides his outstanding intellect and the breadth of his knowledge, he provided us with a paradigm of how a person and a genuine leader should act. His wisdom, dedication, talent, warmth and friendship were much treasured.

Lieberman, a Democrat, worked with Republican Senator Jon Kyl to spearhead the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which laid the groundwork for the eventual transfer of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018. Lieberman was instrumental in helping to craft a compromise bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support and a near-unanimous veto-proof majority in the Senate.

Lieberman was deeply religious. Shortly after he was first elected to the Senate, he spoke to a group in Florida that included co-author Farley Weiss and related how a short time before election day in 1988, he got a call from a Democratic leader in the state who told Lieberman he was going to win. Lieberman responded that it was good to hear but asked why the man thought so. The Democratic leader said that he asked a group of women playing cards with his wife who they were voting for and they all said Lieberman. He asked them why and they said, “Because he is religious.” The Democratic leader told Lieberman that he had thought Lieberman’s religiosity would hurt his chances in the election. Now he realized that it would help him. He was right and Lieberman won the first of four Senate terms.

Also striking was Lieberman’s authenticity. The Talmud (Yoma 72b) discusses this quality, which it summarizes in the pithy Aramaic phrase tocho k’boro—the inside is like the outside. Many politicians clothe themselves in virtue and righteousness. Few live a life that is consistent with those principles.

Lieberman was an exception. You knew where he stood because he said what he meant and meant what he said. You knew you could trust him. It was this that enabled him to achieve so much. It is a legacy cherished by all who knew him.

Lieberman remained the same until the last. In his last public interview, he courageously chided Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for Schumer’s inappropriate criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said, “For a U.S. Senator, let alone a majority leader, let alone the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in Washington, to tell Israelis that it’s time to get rid of [Netanyahu], that’s outrageous.”

The day before his death, Lieberman finalized a letter co-written with Alan Dershowitz that warned President Joe Biden that he was at risk of losing Democratic Jewish voters like themselves. The letter stated, “We want to continue to support Democratic candidates, but you need to know that if you abandon Israel in order to garner the support of anti-Israel extremists within the Democratic Party, it will be difficult for us to support Democrats who are on the ballot this November. Pro-Israel voters have alternatives to simply staying home. None of us can or will vote for any candidate who supports cutting military support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. So please, do the right thing. Do not abandon Israel in its time of great need. And we will not abandon you.”

It was unsurprising that Lieberman was universally eulogized as a man of principle who was kind and civil. Lieberman taught everyone that you can disagree without being disagreeable.

Farley Weiss had the opportunity to speak to Lieberman in Jerusalem just after the ceremony opening the new U.S. embassy. Lieberman was his usual kind and cordial self. They talked about the Jerusalem Embassy Act and Lieberman’s involvement in its passage.

Co-author Leonard Grunstein had the opportunity to interact with Lieberman at Yeshiva University. Lieberman served as a professor and member of the Board of Trustees of YU, while Leonard serves on the board of the Revel Graduate School. Leonard fondly remembers the events he attended with Lieberman. As Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, president of Yeshiva University, wrote upon Lieberman’s passing, “Senator Joseph Lieberman was a man of courage, faith, and fortitude, an independent thinker whose humility and commitment served as an example to all of our students and faculty at Yeshiva University.”

The authors of this column are especially grateful to Lieberman for writing a testimonial for our book Because It’s Just and Right, which recounts the long process of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Senator Joseph Lieberman leaves a tremendous legacy for his family and the Jewish people. May he inspire us all to treasure our faith and unequivocally support Israel. May he be a true advocate for his family and all of Israel in heaven.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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