Joe Lieberman. Screenshot from NBC News

Interview: Joe Lieberman on Iran deal, Jerusalem embassy

Former Senator Joe Lieberman discussed the Iranian elections and the implications of the outcome in a phone interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

[This story originally appeared on]

“Unfortunately I would say that there is no preferable outcome for the United States,” Lieberman said about the May 19 Iranian presidential election. “In other words, Rouhani was described as the moderate has been the leader of the government during the time when they have done so much damage in their own countries with a number of executions of political opponents is up. They’ve also presented thousands of IRGC soldiers into Syria. They’ve greatly strengthened Hezbollah which strengthened Syria, but also threatening Israel. And they’re involved in aggression in Yemen. So he may call himself a moderate, but he’s not. Ebrahim Raisi, the main opponent to Rouhani, seems to be more theologically conservative and enjoys, it appears, the backing of the Supreme Leader. But in the end, the Supreme Leader is the power and he’s not changing. In fact, very little has changed about the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 when it seized power. And, therefore, they remain, as they say themselves, our determined and intransigent enemies.”

Lieberman on its impact over the nuclear deal: “I would guess that whoever wins the election in Iran will stick to the nuclear agreement to the same extent, because it benefits Iran so much. But they need constant monitoring and inspection to guarantee that they’re keeping their part of the bargain. The problem obviously is that they’ve already received as a result of sending the agreement, billions of dollars that they’re using to strengthen themselves militarily and politically. And again, not by my estimate, but by the words of the Supreme Leader, the nuclear agreement was separate. It has nothing to do with their hatred of the United States or Israel and in fact of their Sunni Arab neighbors. So I don’t expect much to change.”

“I think the change that’s occurred, if I may, on the nuclear agreement, the more significant change is the election of President Trump in the US. And I speak as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but I think the change, let’s put it this way, from President Obama to President Trump, with regard to the nuclear agreement, is very significant. Unlike President Obama, President Trump is not committed to sort of protecting this agreement and in some sense bending over backward or closing our eyes to what the Iranians are doing in order to sustain the agreement. President Trump as you know has been a critic of the agreement from the beginning. And I think we can count on his administration to demand full compliance, not only with the agreement, but as he’s recently said when he said the Iranians were not keeping the spirit of the agreement and Secretary Tillerson has said, across a wide array of activities: support of terrorism, aggression in the region, particularly in Syria and in Yemen, and a repression of the human rights of people in Iran.”

On how to address the Iran deal going forward: “I think the first and most important thing that could be done by Congress and the President is to impose new sanctions on Iran for their bad behavior in so many other areas: the firing of ballistic missiles, the aggression in Syria and Yemen, and the human rights violation in their own country. And for the administration to both accept and sign those new sanctions, but also to enforce them. And I think that then the pressure is on Iran to either accept that new series of economic sanctions or itself to break out of the agreement. And they may just break out of the agreement since they’ve gotten so much up front from us. But I think in other words the important point is essentially to react to what respond directly or what the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has said, which is, ‘This is an agreement that is separate from everything else we do.’ Obviously if we see them really beginning to break out and build a nuclear weapon, then we have the tough decision to make, which is whether to take military action to stop them, but we’re not there yet.”

Lieberman on whether he thinks his friend Ambassador David Friedman will work from Jerusalem when he formally assumes his position in Israel: “I don’t know. I’m going to leave that one to President Trump. I mean, clearly I hope that the President when the next waiver date comes up, which is June 1st, he announces that one, the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which it self-evidently is, and two, that we’re beginning the process of moving our embassy there. I was a lead co-sponsor on the Democratic side in the 1990s of the legislation that mandated that the embassy move to Jerusalem. And so it’s very important to me from an American point of view because this is still, I believe, the only country in the world where we don’t have our embassy in a city that the host country designates as its capital. And when you think that this is Israel, one of America’s closest allies in the world, it is a sign of American weakness that we don’t go ahead and put our actions where our principles are and our policies are and that means moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

“So I hope before long David Friedman will be Ambassador Friedman he will be working out of Jerusalem and before long moving there as well. And it’s important to say something you know, the embassy’s going to be located on land which has been Israeli since ’48. So this move will not at all affect negotiations regarding land with the Palestinians. And it’s just a falsehood to argue that it will unless one believes that Israel has no right to any of Jerusalem, which obviously is something that is a position America would never accept.”

Knesset committee approves bill prohibiting use of Holocaust terms

A Knesset committee has approved a law that would prohibit the use of Holocaust and Nazi terms and symbols.

The Ministerial Legislation Committee on Monday approved the proposed bill, which would level an up to $26,000 fine and six months in jail for using the yellow Star of David or the term Nazi, for example.

The bill was proposed by lawmaker Uri Ariel of the National Union party, who was joined by Ruhama Avraham-Balila, Otniel Schneller and Marina Solodkin of the Kadima Party, Eitan Cabel of the Labor Party, and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union party in proposing the bill.

Some lawmakers have rejected the bill, saying it hurts the principle of freedom of expression.

“Sadly, in recent years we have witnessed a growing trend where Nazi symbols are used with flippancy and complete disregard for the feelings of the Holocaust survivors and their decedents. This use is completely illegitimate and it makes no difference if those behind the use are Bilin rioters, haredim or price tag criminals,” Ariel told reporters.

The bill comes on the heels of a haredi Orthodox demonstration in Jerusalem in which the demonstrators, including many young children, wore yellow stars as Jews were forced to do in Europe during World War II, and after the distribution of a poster depicting Jerusalem’s police chief dressed as Hitler, as well as calling police and soldiers “Nazi” by extremist right-wing settlers.

Teen injured in school bus bombing in dire condition

The condition of an Israeli teenager injured in a Palestinian rocket attack on a school bus has worsened.

Daniel Viflic’s condition was downgraded Tuesday to extremely critical and life threatening, according to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

Five days after a rocket fired from Gaza slammed into a school bus traveling near Kibbutz Sa’ad, located in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, Viflic is in a deep coma and is unresponsive, showing no sign of brain activity, Ynet reported. All medical measures on the boy reportedly have been exhausted.

Viflic, 16, suffered severe head trauma and was given emergency CPR at the scene of the April 7 attack. The bus driver, the only other occupant of the bus, was injured in the leg.

WikiLeaks: Israel kept Gaza economy ‘on brink’

Israel told the United States in 2008 that it planned to keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks.

The cable, one of three on the topic from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Washington, said that “As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”

Israel said it would keep Gaza’s economy “functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis,” according to a Nov. 3, 2008 cable.

Beginning last May, Israel relaxed the blockade on Gaza, though aid organizations say it is not enough.

The cables were made public Wednesday in the Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten, which says it has all 250,000 U.S. cables leaked to WikiLeaks.

Olmert offers civilian service plan as military draft alternative; U.S. to train Palestinian troops

Olmert Promotes Civilian National Service

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office announced this week that it had formed an administration to accommodate Israelis who, upon reaching draft age, prefer a civilian version of national service to the standard military conscription. The administration, which begins operations next year, will mostly cater to Israeli Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and draft-age youths who cite personal or political reasons for not wanting to wear a uniform. It is expected to offer them options such as community service or medical posts, with similar commitment periods and benefits as conscripted soldiers. Israelis who do national service enjoy later perks such as tax breaks and student stipends.

State Dept. to Train P.A. troops

U.S. State Department officials will train Palestinian troops assigned to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The course work and practical exercises will enhance the abilities of the Presidential Guard to carry out their primary function — VIP protection,” a department statement said Sunday. “This training is part of a series of courses that will be offered this fall through early 2008.”

The training will be carried out by the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which trains security details around the world. It is part of an agreement signed this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the statement said. The statement said that both sides have “worked closely” to design the program. Gen. Keith Dayton, the top U.S. security envoy to the region, had been ready to train pro-Abbas troops in June, when forces loyal to Hamas, a terrorist group, drove Abbas loyalists out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. focus is now on bolstering Abbas in the West Bank and is part of a wider effort that includes the European Union, Egypt and Jordan.

“The rule of law and security must be the foundation of any successful Palestinian government,” the statement said. “The training and assistance that is being provided will help improve the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to deliver security for the Palestinian people and fight terrorism, build confidence between the parties, and ultimately help to meet the security needs of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

Hezbollah Computer Game Based on War

“Special Force 2” — a computer game based on its war last summer with Israel and launched last week in Beirut in Arabic, Persian and English-language editions — awards points for killing Israeli soldiers. It retails for about $10.

“This game presents the culture of the resistance to children: that occupation must be resisted and that land and the nation must be guarded,” Hezbollah media official Sheikh Ali Daher told Reuters. “The features which are the secret of resistance’s victory in the south have moved to this game so that the child can understand that fighting the enemy does not only require the gun. It requires readiness, supplies, armament, attentiveness, tactics.”

Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, launched the war on July 12, 2006 with a surprise raid into Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and capturing two. Its leaders later said they were surprised by the ferocity of the Israeli response. About 160 Israelis and 1,200 Lebanese died in the war.

Israel Drafts Interim Deal for Survivors

Israeli survivors of Nazi concentration camps and wartime ghettoes are to receive increased state subsidies under an interim deal forged by Ehud Olmert. Sunday marked the deadline set by the prime minister for settling the demands of Holocaust survivors who had protested a government plan to grant them just $20 a month in subsidies. Under a draft deal, those survivors who were in concentration camps or ghettoes will now receive between $200 and $300 a month in addition to standard welfare payouts for the elderly.

Israeli Welfare Ministry Director General Nahum Itzkowitz, speaking on Army Radio, said the deal “could change someone’s life and give him a feeling of stability and security, in comparison with the present situation.”

But a resolution is still pending for the majority of Israel’s 250,000 survivors who were dispossessed by Nazi Germany’s onslaught but never incarcerated. Israeli officials suggested they might attempt a compromise whereby state funding for a central trust catering to the needs of Holocaust survivors would be significantly raised.

Sen. Obama Praises Israel Aid Hike

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) welcomed a raise in defense assistance to Israel. The Bush administration this week signed an agreement with Israel increasing its assistance from $2.4 billion a year to $3 billion a year over 10 years. The assistance is part of a package that uses incentives to encourage multiple parties — the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel — to move forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Obama, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the assistance was necessary because Bush administration policies had endangered Israel.

“The Administration’s failed policies in Iraq, in a war that never should have been authorized, have strengthened Iran and emboldened Hamas and Hezbollah,” he said in a statement Thursday. “That makes it more important than ever that the United States live up to its commitment to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in a dangerous region. For that reason, I support the agreement on military assistance reached today.”

Shul Can Help You Live Longer, Study Suggests

A Hebrew University of Jerusalem study suggests that people who attend synagogue regularly live longer than those who do not.

Professor Howard Litwin of the university’s Israel Gerontological Data Center studied 5,000 Israelis aged 60 or older over a seven-year period, according to an article in Ha’aretz. He compared various factors influencing their longevity. His findings, published in The European Journal of Aging, showed a death rate 75 percent higher among those who did not attend synagogue regularly.

Litwin suggested several reasons: Faith may help people survive psychological pressure better; observant Jews walk to shul on Shabbat, thus maintaining an exercise routine; and a supportive community helps people live longer.

A Question of Blood

The circus of Palestinian victimhood has struck its tent temporarily in Jenin, and gone to church instead in Bethlehem. The Jenin story has petered out because the world, in general, now knows that there was no massacre in Jenin. The world now knows that of the two estimates of the death toll in the fighting which took place in the Jenin refugee camp, one was true and one was false. The Palestinians originally claimed that 500 to 1,000 people had been massacred by the Zionist entity. The Israel Defense Forces estimate was that the death toll was in the dozens, not in the hundreds, and that the majority of those killed in the fighting were gunmen, who had booby-trapped a civilian neighborhood in the hopes of killing as many Israeli soldiers as possible. Today even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two organizations that can certainly not be said to be part of a pro-Israel cabal, have both now come to the conclusion that no evidence exists that any massacre took place. The total number of bodies recovered thus far is 56 by one account and 52 by another, the overwhelming majority of which, they acknowledge, appear to be combatants. Don’t bother looking for an apology for that blood libel. None will be forthcoming.

So Gen. Arafat, as he now calls himself, went instead to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and cried out to the international community to make sure that the crime perpetrated by the Israelis against this holy place would never happen again. Never mind that it was armed Palestinian gunmen who stormed the church, terrorized priests, stole relics and, in one case, ripped the crucifix off the neck of an Armenian cleric. Never mind that in footage televised by CNN, albeit on one day only, the Israeli flares, which the Palestinians claimed set fire to the Church of the Nativity, can be clearly seen sailing harmlessly over the church on the right side of the screen, while the fire itself has already been started inside the church, on the left side of the screen. Don’t expect any apology on that one either.

There is, however, one thing to ponder before the circus sideshow moves on completely. I was in the Jenin refugee camp on April 16. In addition to noting that there was no smell of death in the camp and that the booby-traps and anti-personnel bombs laid out by the Palestinian gunmen were still very much in evidence, I heard a story, which I did indeed find chilling. It was told to me by Dr. David Zangen, chief medical officer of the Israeli paratroop unit, which bore the brunt of the fighting in Jenin. Zangen stated that the Israelis not only worked to keep the hospital in Jenin open, but that they offered the Palestinians blood for their wounded.

The Palestinians refused it because it was Jewish blood.

That is a chilling story to an American of my age, with memories of white, bigoted-racial purists refusing to accept blood from African Americans in the segregated South.

The Israeli response, which could easily have been, “fine, have it you own way,” was to fly in 2,000 units of blood from Jordan, via helicopters, for the Palestinians. In addition, they saw to it that 40 units of blood from the Mukasad Hospital in East Jerusalem went to the hospital in Ramallah, that 70 units got to the hospital in Tul Quarem and they facilitated the delivery of 1,800 units of anti-coagulants that had come in from Morocco, and thus, were somehow acceptable to the Palestinians where Jewish blood was not. (This information was later confirmed to me by Col. Arik Gordin [reserves] of the IDF Office of Military Spokesman, who supplied the exact numbers of units of blood and anticoagulants and the names of the hospitals to which they were delivered.)

So the question to ponder, before the circus leaves town, is how do you negotiate with a hatred so great that it will refuse to accept your blood, even to save its own people’s lives? How does an international community vilify a nation that offers its own blood to its enemies, while its own soldiers lie dying, and that, when faced with race hatred that brands their blood unfit, diverts military flights to bring blood more suitable to the taste of those who would destroy them?

Dan Gordon is the author of five books and the screenwriter of such films as “The Hurricane” and “Murder in the First.” He is also a former sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces and a peace activist who has held meetings with Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.