New Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau faced the first controversy of his week-long tenure in the post on Tuesday when he was quoted making what many called racist statements about African-American basketball players.

The statements were first reported on Hakol Haharedi, a news service available by phone for those who do not use the Internet. Ma’ariv put the comments on its front page and posted audio of it on its website.

“Why do you care about whether these kushim [a derogatory term for black people] who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the kushim who get paid in Greece?” the rabbi asked yeshiva students who watch Euroleague basketball.

“Even my kashrut certification inspectors are ashamed to enter places where yeshiva students watch a screen every Thursday night during the winter [season].”

Knesset Education and Sports Committee chairman Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said it was “very unfortunate that rabbis who are supposed to lead the way ethically fail time and time again by making racist statements.”

Labor MK Nachman Shai said Lau should apologize to the African-Americans who come to Israel to play basketball and the African Jews who live here.

Shai said he was disappointed that while new Pope Francis was making unexpectedly liberal comments about gays, Israel’s new chief rabbi was using racist language.

“Rabbi Lau’s father, who survived [the Holocaust], should teach his son about tolerance and equality,” Shai said.

Ethiopian-born MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid) said he was personally insulted by the rabbi’s statement, and that he would call for an emergency meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee on the issue.

Fellow Ethiopian-born Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata said Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett was right when he said the rabbinate needed to change its face.

“A rabbi of his stature cannot make such racist statements,” Tamnu-Shata said. “Woe to us if this is the face of our rabbinate for years to come. Maybe the next time an Ethiopian couple comes to him, he will say he does not care if such kushim get married. It is grave that a man who sees himself as fit to be chief rabbi expresses himself this way.”

But Bennett defended Lau, telling The Jerusalem Post that the media needed to stop “stalking public figures” and “hunting for statements” that could hurt them.

Bennett said that although he supported Rabbi David Stav in the race for Ashkenazi chief rabbi, he was sure Lau would do a wonderful job in the post.

The spokesman of the Chief Rabbinate said Lau declined to comment.

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