Aug 10 2000

The real Rabbi Yosef

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

I have a confession to make. For some time I have watched and admired the rise of the Sephardic Jewish party Shas.

I have been a fan of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri ever since reading a long interview with him following his visit with spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to Egypt. In that interview not only was it clear that he was an astute politician but that he and Rabbi Yosef were genuine supporters of the peace process.

It was through following Shas that I realized most Jewish settlers are not from the Sephardic Jewish community and that the Shas leaders’ support for the peace process stems from the religious edict that it is better to save lives than to hold onto land. 

Deri himself was also very impressive. His image with the tie slightly loosened and his constant movement gave the impression of a busy yet not overly formal politician.

This is why I am having difficulty understanding why the spiritual leader of Shas decided this week, for the first time I can remember, to attack Palestinians and Arabs with derogatory remarks.

In his weekly sermon, this Orthodox rabbi attacked Palestinians as “snakes and foxes.” He also attacked Arabs as “evil” and made negative remarks against the “children of Ishmael.” The rabbi also implied that Holocaust victims were being punished by God.

He later apologized to the Holocaust survivors but the attack on Palestinians and Arabs was left unnoticed. Much to the dismay and anger of Palestinians, Israeli leaders who condemned the Holocaust statement made no mention of the dehumanization of Palestinians and Arabs.

Palestinian cartoonist Umaya Joha best captured the sentiment of Palestinians with a drawing that appeared in the Al Quds daily on Tuesday. In it Rabbi Yosef is observing a funeral with Palestinians wearing a kaffiya and carrying a coffin bearing the colors of the Palestinian flag.

Yosef asks: “What are these snakes doing?” The person next to him replied: “They are carrying the coffin of a snake that drowned after he saved the life of a drowning Jewish boy.”

My confusion over this sudden attack led me to call Gen. Nasr Yousef, the most senior Palestinian security official, who met with Yosef last year. Yousef refused to comment on the statements of the rabbi but insisted that when they last met Yosef was genuinely supportive of the peace process.

The Palestinian general told me he is considering meeting Yosef to brief him on the Palestinian position and try decipher the reason for this attack.

The only plausible explanation I could find came from a colleague, George Khleifi, who is well-informed on Israeli politics.

He said the majority of Shas supporters are right-wing Israelis, many of whom used to vote for the Likud and who are generally against the current peace process.

Khleifi felt that as long as Deri was around he was able to shield the spiritual leader from this right-wing sentiment and keep the party in government.

But once Deri was out of politics, the sentiments of Shas’s rank and file were able to leave their mark on Yosef. Apparently the crowd applauded after Yosef’s sermon last Saturday.

I am not sure whether General Nasr Yousef will in fact try to talk to the Shas rabbi; I am sure that many Palestinians are against such a move. However, I think for the sake of peace he should swallow his dignity and remind the rabbi that Palestinians – and not only Jews – are God’s creatures.

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