Prominent US Jewish group: ‘Chickenshit’ official must be held accountable

Conference of Presidents head Hoenlein says comments are ‘big deal’ for US Jews; disability rights group calls for White House disassociation from ‘Aspergery’ slam

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Hoenlein at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Malcolm Hoenlein at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations called late Wednesday for the anonymous US “senior administration official” who called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “chickenshit” to be “held to account” for his comments.

Robert G. Sugarman, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote that they were “deeply concerned by a number of recent public and private criticisms, personal insults and inappropriate characterizations emanating from official sources.”

The two welcomed statements from the administration distancing the White House from comments cited in a Tuesday column by Jeffrey Goldberg, published in The Atlantic, but believe that the administration’s characterization of the comments as “inappropriate” and “counterproductive” was insufficient.

A Conference statement called for “the person responsible be held to account and the appropriate steps be taken by the administration.”

Speaking with The Times of Israel, Hoenlein said that he would not specify what constituted “appropriate steps,” saying that such a decision was “for the administration to determine.” No apology has been issued, he noted, and while the administration criticized the comments, it did not call for any apology – an action that would presumably “out” the anonymous source of the comments.

“It is less important that we know who said it than that appropriate action is taken,” said Hoenlein, who characterized the views expressed by the official in Goldberg’s article as “very extreme.”

The organization led by Sugarman and Hoenlein represents 55 Jewish organizations in the United States, including all three major streams of Judaism and political groups on both the right and left.

Hoenlein said that he was concerned with “putting an end to the divisiveness, the name-calling and the sniping,” and added that “addressing this issue seriously will help put this issue behind us.”

Hoenlein, who has frequently consulted with the White House on issues of concern to American Jewry, said that for his organization’s membership, the comments reported in The Atlantic were “a big deal.”

Since the article was published on Tuesday, he said, he has received “many emails, many reactions, and many expressions of concern,” adding that he was even stopped on the streets this afternoon in New York by people who recognized him and wanted to express their concern about the statements.

Other groups also called for further administration action in the aftermath of the article, including the Ruderman Family Foundation which took issue not with the “chickenshit” adjective used to describe Netanyahu’s unwillingness to take action, but rather to another derogatory adjective bandied about in the article – “Aspergery.”

The foundation, which advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community, called Wednesday on the administration to release an additional statement disassociating itself from the comments in the article — denouncing the use of the name of a disability in a derogatory manner.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” wrote Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

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