Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Incites Followers to Commit Genocide against Arabs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Incites Followers to Commit Genocide against Arabs

Article excerpt

Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Incites Followers to Commit Genocide Against Arabs

By Riad Z. Abdelkarim

Dr. Riad Z. Abdelkarim is communications director for the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, CA.

"The Lord shall return their deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world. It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable."

It is easy to imagine these words being uttered by a Nazi leader in Germany some 60 years ago, or by a proponent of apartheid in South Africa just a decade ago. In reality, however, these blatantly racist and inflammatory words were spoken just a few weeks ago by Israeli Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He was, of course, speaking about Arabs--during a widely broadcast sermon marking Passover, no less.

In the past, fringe elements on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have made provocative remarks. These have largely been ignored or dismissed, however, as unrepresentative of mainstream thought on either side.

What is particularly disconcerting in this instance is the fact that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (who has previously referred to Arabs as "vipers") does not represent a fringe element of the political spectrum in Israel. Indeed, as Israel's former chief rabbi and founder and spiritual leader of the religious Shas party--Israel's third largest political party--he is an influential figure in Israeli political circles. Yosef has a devoted following of hundreds of thousands of Jews, and his political party currently controls the interior and religious affairs ministries in the coalition government of hard-line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Shas leader and Interior Minister Eli Yesha reportedly defended Yosef's remarks, saying "they reflected the overall state of thinking in the Israeli Jewish society."


Although these incendiary comments have received widespread coverage in the European media, they have drawn scant attention in our mainstream U.S. press. In fact, a search of the Web sites of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Chicago Tribune failed to reveal even a single reference to Yosef's remarks. A justifiable chorus of condemnation from government, religious, and media spokespersons around the world would have promptly greeted these comments had they been directed against members of the Jewish faith by a prominent Christian or Muslim leader.

However, when the targets of hate speech are Christian and Muslim Arabs, as in this case, and the perpetrator a well-known Israeli rabbi, there is an eerie silence on the part of our government, most American Jewish leaders, and mainstream media outlets. American Muslims and Arabs wonder, "Why the double standard? …

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