This weekend brought news of the latest set of inflammatory comments by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of Shas — the ultra-Orthodox party that is currently the fourth largest party in Israel’s Knesset. Yosef — whose previous statements regarding Arabs and Gentiles have drawn similar controversy — said the following during his sermon on Saturday, according to the Jerusalem Post:
“When we make the blessing on the dates that ‘our enemies and haters should be ended’ we should have in mind the Iranian regime, those evil people who threaten Israel,” the rabbi said.
“Do good, God, wipe them out, kill them,” he entreated, to which the assembled crowd answered “amen.”
“When eating the leek,” also traditionally eaten as part of the symbolic service for a good coming year, “and when we say that our enemies, foes and anyone who desires to do evil to us should be cut off, we should have in mind Hezbollah and Iran,” Yosef said.
“Destroy them God, obliterate them from the face of the earth,” he said… [emphasis added]
At +972, Ami Kaufman has more on the political implications of Yosef’s statement.
Shas’s political leader, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, had been considered one of several members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet who are skeptical of an attack on Iran, but the Netanyahu government has been wooing Yosef to try to bring Shas (and thus Yishai) over into the war hawk camp. Last week, Yosef received a briefing on the Iran issue from Yaakov Amidror, head of Netanyahu’s National Security Council. The Shas leader’s recent comments may be a sign that he and his party have been persuaded to support an attack on Iran.
As for the comments themselves, I suspect that few will dispute the grotesqueness of Yosef’s call to “obliterate them [Iran and Hezbollah] from the face of the earth.” It’s worth noting that this is not the first time that Yosef has appeared to call for genocide: in 2001 he was quoted as saying of Arabs that ”it is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”
As he did in 2001, Yosef’s supporters are arguing that his comments are being misinterpreted — that he is simply arguing for the obliteration of the Iranian regime, not Iran itself. Such a distinction provides scant consolation to Iranian civilians, large numbers of whom would most likely be killed in any attack on Iran.
More to the point, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad similarly specified that he was talking about the “occupying regime” when he made his notorious comments suggesting that Israel must “vanish from the pages of time” — the phrase more frequently, albeit inaccurately, translated as “wiped off the map”. Of course, few Israelis felt greatly comforted by this qualification, for understandable reasons.
As I wrote several years ago during the Netanyahu “Amalek” controversy, it’s striking how differently the Western media treat these sorts of comments when they come from Israelis as opposed to Iranians. If a prominent Iranian cleric made similar statements to Yosef’s, they would be held up in the press as evidence of the regime’s genocidal fanaticism. When Yosef does it, suddenly pundits feel comfortable invoking context to explain away what on any reading is a call for blood.