By: Jonathan Levin  | 

Senator Joe Lieberman Speaks to Students about Jewish Values in Politics, Political Advocacy and Bi-partisanship

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman spoke with approximately 60 undergraduate students on Wilf Campus Dec. 12 about Jewish values in politics, encouraging students to be politically active and advocating for increased bipartisanship.

The event, held in the Sky Caf on the 12th floor of Belfer Hall, was attended by students from Beren and Wilf Campuses and was organized by Dunner Political Science Society Co-President Reuben Hartman (YC ‘23), who invited Lieberman. The event began with introductory remarks by Lieberman, followed by the senator answering pre-selected questions, eventually opening up to questions from the audience.

Lieberman, who served as a senator from Connecticut for 24 years and was Al Gore’s vice presidential nominee in the 2000 presidential election, is a university trustee, co-chair of the Rise-Up Campaign and has taught classes at YU.

In his introductory remarks, Lieberman told students about his motivations for entering politics, attributing it to his Jewish upbringing, his interest in history and the biographies of influential historical figures and John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign.

Kennedy, Lieberman said, broke barriers as the first Roman Catholic president, inspiring Lieberman, then in high school, to later run for positions where he would be the first Orthodox Jew to hold them.

After telling students that working as a religious Jew in the Senate allowed him to find common ground with politicians of other faiths, Lieberman encouraged students to be politically active. 

“One of the reasons I’ve taught courses at YU … is that I think it’s really important that more young men and women like you aspire to careers in elective office, in the civil service, supporting candidates; I think it's part of what it means to be an observant Jew,” Lieberman said. 

“As the demographics in the Jewish community in America change and the Orthodox Jewish population is the one that is growing,” he continued, “there will be a need for Orthodox Jews to be involved … in advocating for the Jewish community, advocating for Israel in the political world and seeking office; and also … coming to the kinds of positions of leadership in the Jewish community … which Orthodox Jews haven’t occupied in sufficient numbers.”

After his introductory remarks, Lieberman answered pre-selected questions from Hartman and spoke about the need for bipartisanship, political compromise and the importance of leaders setting a positive example.

Lieberman told the audience that compromise is rooted in American history, dating as far back as the 1787 Constitutional Convention’s Connecticut Compromise, which established the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Additionally, besides the “tremendous satisfaction” that comes from compromising and working across the aisle, Lieberman told students, it allows for the passage of significant legislation. Using examples from when he was in the Senate, he explained that compromise between former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton allowed for the passage of welfare reform, criminal justice reform and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 — which created a budget surplus.

Citing the biblical examples of King Shaul and his discipline by the prophet Shmuel, God’s rebuke to Moshe over hitting the rock at Mai Meriva and the deaths of Nadav and Avihu for offering an Aish Zara before God, Lieberman said that leaders also have an “obligation to set an example.”

“Tanach makes clear that leaders,” Lieberman said, “though they may have other special privileges, do not have the privilege of bad behavior, because they set an example for the societies in which they exist.” 

Lieberman also told students about his work with No Labels, a non-partisan political group that advocates for bipartisanship, where Lieberman serves as the New York co-chair.

In addition to supporting political moderates from both parties, Lieberman said, the group, prompted by concerns from its members, is preparing for a possible third-party “national unity ticket” in 2024, comprised of a Republican and Democrat, in the event that Republicans and Democrats nominate candidates who won’t work across the political aisle. 

“In response to our membership,” said Lieberman “who are looking forward to the 2024 presidential election with some trepidation, thinking that the major parties would each nominate candidates who are not centrist … they asked us to try to get ready, if necessary, to run a third party bipartisan national unity ticket for president in 2024.”

The initiative, called “Our Insurance Policy Project,” has since raised money to qualify for a potential third-party candidate across all 50 states. The group hopes to qualify in 11 states by the end of this year which allow early qualification.

“We are calling this ‘Our Insurance Policy project,’” Lieberman said, “which means, that as when you buy a fire insurance policy for instance, you hope you don’t have to use it — but in case your house gets set on fire, it's there.”

The initiative exists but is dependent on political developments, “Because we’re not going to be able to make a rational decision until 2024, when we see which candidates both parties will nominate, as to whether there is a constructive role to be played by a third ticket — a bipartisan ticket,” Lieberman said.

“I think this will become more visible in the time ahead,” Lieberman concluded, saying he believed the parties could do better, and that “we will see whether we will actually buy the insurance policy.”

Hartman and Allie Orgen (SCW ‘24), the co-president of YUPAC, which cosponsored the event along with the Dunner Political Science Society, were pleased with the event and felt it went well.

“Turn out exceeded our expectations,” Hartman told The Commentator. “There's obviously a great interest among all YU students to hear from a respectable politician like Sen. Lieberman. We had an insightful conversation about bipartisan values, Jewish values and the state of the U.S. government and Israeli politics.

“It was so special to hear Senator Lieberman discuss how he was able to bring his Jewish values into his political work instead of keeping his Jewish and professional identities in separate categories,” said Orgen. “The way he was able to maintain a strong Jewish identity is really inspiring!”

Lieberman, who joined YU’s faculty in 2014, last taught in the fall of 2020.

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Photo Caption: Sen. Lieberman at YU’s 98th annual dinner alongside Rise Up Campaign Co-Chair Anita Zucker

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University