Like Israeli National Security Advisor Ya’akov Amidror and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has met with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and current head of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, the Jewish Press reports:
Dan Shapiro, the new American ambassador to Israel, relates that even before he got to his new post in Tel Aviv, he made note of the fact that he had to establish a good relationship with Rav Ovadia Yosef. Therefore two days after presenting his letter of credence to President Shimon Peres, he approached the office of Interior Minister Eli Yishai to get an appointment with the Rav, which took place later that week.
The conversation between the Rav and the ambassador was friendly. The ambassador spoke in Hebrew and told the Rav about his religious affiliations and his studies in yeshiva. Since then, the two meet frequently, and the Americans will definitely try to employ Dan Shapiro, within the next few days, to convince the Rav not to support the attack on Iran.
The story, entitled “Rav Ovadia Yosef Holds in his Hands the Fate of Israel’s Attack on Iran,” says “that Rav Ovadia Yosef is the key to the entire political and security process in Israel. His influence on his party is prominent and his word has ramifications in wider spheres of influence.”
But while highlighting examples of Yosef’s influence on Israeli politics, like his meeting with deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and Netanyau’s struggle to secure his approval of the October 18 prisoner exchange, it excludes Yosef’s history of outspoken racism.
As I wrote here Tuesday, this has included Yosef’s statements that Palestinians are “snakes” and “accursed, wicked ones,” and that God was “sorry he created all Arabs”; that ”It is forbidden to be merciful to them [Arabs]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable”; that Hurricane Katrina happened because “black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them”; and that “Goyim were born only to serve us [Jews]. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”
This background information is also absent from mainstream media reports on Yosef’s prominence in Iran war deliberations. An Associated Press article by Ian Deitch, published by the Washington Post and others simply calls him “the Shas Party’s 92-year-old spiritual leader,” before saying that “Yosef, a former Israeli chief rabbi for Jews of Middle East origins, is revered by millions around the world as a scholar and spiritual leader. His Shas Party is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government and would have a say in a decision over attacking Iran.”
Some Israeli and specialized media have shown more frankness in their reports. While Haaretz’s news report omits Yosef’s checkered past, a blog post on its site begins its description of Yosef by noting, “Shas’ spiritual leader is not exactly known for his tolerance towards Israel’s neighbors,” before recounting his “annihilate them” outburst.
Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Shas party, is also a deeply divisive figure. For secular Israeli Jews he symbolizes all that is retrograde and anti-modern in Israeli culture. His pronouncements on public issues are reminiscent of those of the late Jerry Falwell and of Rush Limbaugh.
Yosef, a salaried Israeli state employee, is a key decision-maker – some would say the key decision-maker – on an Israeli war of aggression against Iran, and is treated as a respected public figure by both the Israeli and US governments. In this context, it is the height of journalistic irresponsibility for media to obscure his racist incitement against Palestinians and other Arabs, people of African descent, and non-Jews in general.
If Barack Obama sent top US officials to solicit David Duke’s approval of a war, would the AP mention his past? Why does it hide such essential information from its readers when it concerns an Israeli figure?