Disability advocates slam ‘Aspergery’ epithet to describe Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement Sunday in his office in Jerusalem regarding the agreement reached in Geneva earlier between Iran and six world powers.  Photo by Haim Zach/ GPO/FLASH90
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Photo by Haim Zach/ GPO/FLASH90

As fallout from anonymous administration officials’ insults toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues, advocates for people with disabilities are calling on the Obama administration to issue a separate apology for officials’ reported use of the word “Aspergery” in their description of the Israeli prime minister.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, CEO of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to reshape American society’s attitudes toward, and strive for greater inclusion of, persons with disabilities, told the Washington Jewish Week Thursday that she hopes the administration directly addresses the use of that word and reforms its internal etiquette and sensitivity practices.

“Disability impacts Americans in huge ways. Literally, 18.6 percent of us have disabilities, which means a majority of us have a loved one with a disability,” said Mizrahi. “And so what [the officials thought] they were trying to convey is that [Netanyahu] is a person who’s incapable of building a relationship.”

In an article published in The Atlantic on Oct. 28, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg listed the outrageous words he had heard aimed at Netanyahu over the years from the Obama administration.


“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.),” Goldberg wrote.

The article exploded in the media since its publication, primarily due to the use of another word by an anonymous administration official, who called the prime minister “a chickenshit.”  Yet, the word “Aspergery” — which references stereotyped traits of individuals with Asperger Syndrome — might hurt the administration in more than just in its relationship with Netanyahu and Israel.

On Wednesday, Ruderman Family Foundation, a major disability advocacy organization based in Boston, released a statement singling out the word “Aspergery” and called for action from the administration.

“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,” said Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president. “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.

“The Foundation calls on the administration to release a statement denouncing the use of the name of a disability in a derogatory manner (in this case ‘Aspergery’).”

Going beyond the use of that word, Mizrahi thought the insults between officials of the two nations are unfortunate, reminding how Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, was once quoted in Israeli media questioning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” fervor in his pursuit of an Israel-Palestine peace deal.

“I know that there is a lot of concern about what an unnamed official said about Prime Minister Netanyahu, but definitely using disability as an insult is disgusting – to use it as an insult or slur – but I will say that I hope that the insults diminish on both sides because there are some very serious issues right now,” said Mizrahi.

“There’s an Iran deal in the works that has a vital importance to both the United States and Israel, and the situation in Jerusalem is incredibly nerve-wracking at the moment. There’s been loss of life and there’s great tension and helicopters are flying over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount is closed, and this is not a time for people to be finger pointing and calling people names.

“Whether it’s disability names or any other kind of names, we need to work together.”

[email protected]   @dmitriyshapiro

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