Disability groups blast use of Asperger’s to insult PM

Organizations bristle at administration officials’ derogatory reference to syndrome; White House apologizes

President of the Autism Society Scott Badesch (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)
President of the Autism Society Scott Badesch (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

Groups promoting the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities have aimed sharp criticism at unnamed officials in the Obama administration for using Asperger Syndrome as a method of insulting Israel’s prime minister, saying the use of the term in such a context was offensive, and even calling on the president to sack those responsible.

Scott Badesch, President of the Autism Society of America, called on US President Barack Obama to “fire that person immediately and say you will not allow anyone in your administration to deny respect and value in their use of words describing anyone with Asperger’s and autism.

“Imagine the public outcry if such demeaning language was used to describe any other group of people. And my guess is you know who said it,” he added.

An article published in The Atlantic on Tuesday portrayed the current rift between the United States and Israel as a “full-blown crisis.” But while it has mainly gained notoriety for one official’s use of the word “chickenshit” to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it also contained a number of other slurs which reporter Jeffrey Goldberg claimed were uttered against the premier by certain officials at various points in time.

“Over the years,” Goldberg wrote, “Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and ‘Aspergery’ (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list). But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a ‘chickenshit.’”

Another organization, the Ruderman Family Foundation – a group which promotes people with disabilities within Jewish communities – said it was “unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner.

“The term ‘Aspergery’ was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome,” said foundation president Jay Ruderman. “It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

In response, the White House on Thursday told the Forward the term was an “unfortunate misuse of language” and said the issue was being addressed.

The White House has distanced itself from all of the anonymous comments quoted by Goldberg, saying the comments had the potential to cause serious harm to Israel-US relations.

“Certainly, that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive,” said National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey, according to the Washington political journal The Hill. “Prime Minister Netanyahu and the president have forged an effective partnership, and consult closely and frequently, including earlier this month when the president hosted the prime minister in the Oval Office.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the statements were “disgraceful, unacceptable, and damaging.” On Friday, Kerry telephoned Netanyahu to apologize in person on behalf of the administration.

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