Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the rightwing Shas Party in Israel, died yesterday. Yosef was famous for racist pronouncements. Haaretz’s editorial said right at the top, “Yosef will also be remembered as a man who contributed a great deal to the polarization and division of Israeli society.”
But Bill de Blasio, the Democratic frontrunner in the NY mayor’s race, mourned Yosef:
Millions of people around the world lost a leader today in Rabbi Chacham Ovadia Yosef. His wisdom, charity and sensitivity were legendary.
— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) October 7, 2013
And as Gawker noted, in “Bill de Blasio mourns death of very racist rabbi,” the candidate was not alone. The Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and the Times obituaries for Yosef all either left out his many racist statements or slighted them.
For instance, the Times spoke of Yosef’s charismatic leadership–“he harnessed the underdog sentiment of many non-European Israeli Jews, worked to restore their pride and turned them into a potent political force”–and quoted Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres’s praise for the rabbi before stating deep in the story, that Yosef lashed out “against those he despised — rival politicians, gay people and perceived enemies of Israel.” It included one paragraph with a genocidal curse against Palestinians.
The Times left out what it reported in 2004:
Speaking of Arabs in a sermon in 2001, he was quoted as saying: ”It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”
Or what he said of non-Jews: “Goyim were born only to serve. Without that, they have no place in the world,” he said, per Max Blumenthal’s new book.
Here he is on the peace process and Palestinians, in 2010:
Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced upcoming peace talks with the Palestinians… and called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “perish from this world,” Army Radio reported overnight Saturday.
“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
He said of black people hurt by hurricane Katrina, per Ynet:
“There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”
“Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God,”
Yosef also went after gay people as “sick” and “perverted,” and said they should be kept away from students. Gawker made a point of exposing the Times’s hypocrisy:
By contrast, in the 10th paragraph of its Jerry Falwell obituary, the Times detailed the conservative pastor’s comments about 9/11 and the Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky, who “could be a hidden homosexual signal, because the character was purple, had a triangle on its head and carried a handbag.”
de Blasio’s collapse is particularly galling. He was a radical in Nicaragua in the 1980s, his wife Chirlayne McCray is a hero among progressives because of her unapologetic concern for economic justice and her openness about having been gay, and their brown-skinned son has been the icon of the campaign. You’d think he would have sat this one out. You’d be wrong. Gawker asks a stupid question that it refuses to answer:
So why would de Blasio, who enjoys a gaping lead over Republican opponent Joe Lhota, go out of his way to praise Yosef’s racist bile? Who knows.
The answer is that de Blasio doesn’t want to lose the Orthodox Jewish vote in Brooklyn.
By the way, last week a moderator at J Street’s conference, Israeli television reporter Udi Segal, also went out of his way to offer Rabbi Ovadia best wishes in the hospital, and quote him in a favorable light (minute 104 in video). Some J Streeters applauded.
I’m with Jeffrey Goldberg here.
I’m sorry, dear Ovadia Yosef supporters, but your rabbi said some despicable things: http://t.co/LsUsViLO3e
And from Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer:
Remember, Ovadia Yosef had a lot of crude racist things to say about Arabs but it’s when he went after Jews that he got really creative.
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) October 7, 2013