When we learned, Wednesday morning, that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is planning to retire at the end of his term, we thought back a few election cycles to the thrill of pride across the Jewish world when Vice President Al Gore chose him, an observant Jew, to be his running mate – “a heartbeat away from the presidency,” as many Jewish newspapers noted at the time. And we thought back, more recently, to when it was whispered that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) might choose him for a running mate as well.

His has been a long and distinguished career, reaching almost to the highest office in the land. We haven’t always agreed with him, but we hold him in high regard for infusing his life and work with Jewish values and for serving as an example to others.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, his colleague (and fellow Yalie) Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) noted “his exceptional skill, patience, and ability to listen, his sense of humor, and his tenacity as a lawmaker.”

Kerry also noted “those uphill environmental fights, from protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the climate bill last year,” in which “Joe never quit and Joe never surrendered because he believes that environmental stewardship is an act of faith, the work of ‘tikkun olam.’ Joe was no less determined in his decade-long effort to end the policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ a victorious journey that brought him right back to where he started in public life as a Yale student joining the Freedom Riders in the long march for civil rights for all Americans.”

Now if it were Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, who was retiring, we would break out the Sabra. That Lieberman, rather than marching for civil rights for all, has gone on the attack against Israeli human rights groups, claiming that they are weakening the Israel Defense Forces and the state itself. (See page 26.) But if he has his way – as with the “loyalty oath” he’s called for – it is he who will weaken the state. He will damage its democratic character and play into the hands of those aiming to make it an international pariah.