PM pulls back from Yosef’s words

US State Dept. condemns comments as "incitement which hurts peace."

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rushed on Sunday evening to distance himself and his government from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s death wish for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian people, after the flood of angry Palestinian reactions to the comments.
“These words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
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“Israel is going to the negotiations out of a desire to make progress with the Palestinians toward an agreement that will put an end to the conflict and ensure peace, security and good, neighborly relations between the two peoples.”
The US State Department on Sunday condemned Yosef's comments in a statement which said that the words are "not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace."
"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," State Department spoksman P.J. Crowley said. "We note the Israeli statement that the Rabbi's comments do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister."
"As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it," said Crowley.
The head of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages and senior Sephardi adjudicator had, in his weekly Saturday night sermon, referred to Abbas and the Palestinian people as “our enemies and haters... May they vanish from the world, may God smite them with the plague, them and the Palestinians, evil-doers and Israelhaters.”
Earlier on Sunday, the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned Ovadia’s remarks and called on the government to “take appropriate measures” to stop “racist incitement” against Palestinians.
Ovadia’s remarks were “a clear call for genocide,” Erekat said.
“Is this how the Israeli government is preparing its people for peace with the Palestinians?” he asked. “Rabbi Ovadia is calling for the assassination of President Mahmoud Abbas, who in a few days will be sitting face-to-face with the Israeli prime minister.”
The remarks also constituted a “blow” to efforts to revive the peace process, Erekat said.
“The PLO is preparing to resume the peace talks seriously and in good faith, at a time when one of the major parties in the Israeli government coalition is calling for the elimination of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Erekat urged the government to stop “spreading hatred” and intensify its efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Balad Party chairman MK Jamal Zahalka on Sunday demanded that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein open a criminal investigation against Yosef, on the grounds that incitement and racism cannot not be protected by freedom of speech, but are rather criminal acts that should bear penal sanctions.
“Yosef’s remarks are not an expression of opinion, but a criminal act that should be punished. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is not an insignificant personality, but a religious leader whose adjudications and speeches are heeded by hundreds of thousands, and are tantamount to permission to kill Palestinians as such,” Zahalka said.
“If God forbid a Muslim religious leader would express similar sentiments toward Jews, he would immediately be arrested. Yosef’s statements are especially severe, since they are repeated time and again,” he said.
United Arab List-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi had earlier that day suggested that Yosef rethink his wish that evil people die, “since he is inadvertently wishing his own demise.”
The lawmaker also referred to Yosef’s advanced age (he turns 90 on September 23).
“Statistically, in another year or two chances are that the Palestinians will still be around, unlike Yosef,” Tibi said. staff contributed to this report.