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September 15, 2010

Rabbi Yosef, Apostle of Hatred

Reuel S. Amdur

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Let's face it: there is nothing to prevent a revered religious leader from being a jerk, and worse. That brings us to the most recent indecent stupidity from the mouth of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of Israel's Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Jews and spiritual leader of Shas, their political party.

First, a bit about the Israeli political system. 

Because of its extreme form of proportional representation, it is virtually impossible to get a majority government. 

The Jewish religious parties sell themselves to secular parties trying to put together a governing coalition.  They wring from the secular parties provisions forcing Sabbath observance in certain situations, exemption for religious scholars from the draft, control over marriage and divorce, etc.  Shas is one of the religious parties that plays such a game.

The fact that Yosef is spiritual leader of the party means a lot more than that he leads its members in prayer.

He heavily influences their political agenda. 

Thus, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is at least going through the motions of trying to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, it is far from insignificant when Yosef not only point-blank opposes all negotiations but also declares that “Abu Mazen and all those evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and those Palestinians.”    

Back in 2001, he was even more venomous: “It is forbidden to be merciful to them.  You must send missiles to them and annihilate them.  They are evil and damnable.”

Jamal Zahalka, leader of the Palestinian Balad faction in the Knesset, remarked that “If, heaven forbid, a Muslim leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort, he would be arrested immediately.” 

Zahalka pointed out that the remarks are serious and dangerous because Yosef has hundreds of thousands of followers.

Netanyahu responded carefully, saying that Yosef’s words “do not reflect my approach or the position of the Israeli government.” 

After all, Netanyahu may need Shas’ support in the Knesset at some point.

Washington responded more strongly: “We regret and condemn the inflammatory statement by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”  His comments were termed “deeply offensive.”

It is hard to believe that at an earlier point in time Yosef and Shas were dovish. According to Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer, they were prepared to sacrifice land for peace. 

However, Yosef’s God had a change of heart in 2000.  Yosef also changed his mind on the settlements, which he had opposed, but in 2002 all that changed.  He went to visit one of them and offered his encouragement.

Two years ago Yosef urged President Shimon Peres to pardon some Jewish convicts, including Ami Popper, serving seven life sentences for the murder of seven Palestinians.  After all, they were simply making a start on the task of annihilating the “evil and damnable.”

This rabbi’s stupidity has been there for all to see over the years. 

Hurricane Katrina?  “It was God’s retribution” for George W. Bush’s support of the Gaza pullout. 

As for the black victims of Katrina, they got it because “they don’t study Torah.”

Just to be obnoxious all around, he also said that the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were punished because they were reincarnations of sinners.

Haaaretz commentator Shahar Ilan called Yosef “the most important religious leader since the establishment of the state,” as the Ashkenazi rabbis are more divided, lacking a single voice. 

Ashkenazi Jews have their roots in Germany and Eastern Europe, while the Sephardic Jews trace their origin to the Latin countries and the Arab world.  Yosef’s disdain for Ashkenazi Jews is palpable, as illustrated in his comment about the Holocaust.

We might try to compare Yosef to Ian Paisley, but such a comparison would be unfair to Paisley.  He changed in a positive direction, while Yosef becomes ever more vile.

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