Washington Watch: Incitement, Israeli style

It is no excuse to shrug off Ovadia Yosef’s invective by saying the Arabs are worse. Since when does Israel measure its moral stature by that yardstick?

The light unto the nations dimmed a bit more this week.
Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called for a plague to strike the Palestinian people dead. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the rabbi doesn’t speak for him or his government, but stopped short of condemning the hateful message. Only two American Jewish organizations rebuked Yosef over the following couple of days without being asked by reporters.
Imagine the Jewish outrage if a Palestinian leader had said, “May our enemies and those who hate us be put to an end” and may God “smite them with plague.”
Those were Yosef’s words. Shas’s votes are critical to keeping Netanyahu in power. That may explain his tepid, albeit quick, reaction to Yosef’s apparent effort to undermine him on the eve of his departure for peace talks in Washington.
Netanyahu, who faces Palestinian demands to continue the settlement freeze that is due to expire September 26, had been expected to respond that he kept his commitment on construction, but the Palestinians have failed to curb anti-Israel incitement, as they’ve been promising for the past 17 years.
Now Yosef has undercut him. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has accused Yosef of advocating genocide; this time he’s not exaggerating.
How does Yosef’s call for wiping out the Palestinians differ from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s desire to wipe Israel off the map? It would be easy to shrug off this episode as the rantings of a senile old man nearing 90. But Yosef is no newcomer to incitement. His attitude toward women has been likened to that of the Taliban. He regularly vilifies fellow Jews who don’t share his extreme views; he has said Holocaust victims were a reincarnation of sinners from prior generations, Israeli soldiers killed in Lebanon were suffering God’s retribution for their lack of Torah observance, Hurricane Katrina victims were punishment for US support of the Gaza withdrawal, and he has called Palestinians “cockroaches” that should be annihilated.
AND HE is not alone. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has told the president of Egypt to “go to hell,” called for bombing the Aswan Dam and advocated the transfer of Palestinians out of Israel. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has accused Reform Jews of trying to “remove Torah from Israel” and “impose the lifestyle of others, including violence, immodesty and assimilation” on a hapless Israel. During the Gaza withdrawal, right-wing rabbis told their followers in the IDF to disobey their officers.
Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro recently published a book declaring “there is nothing wrong with the murder” of gentiles, including women, children and righteous gentiles “even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation” but might be a threat some day in the future. How does that differ from the justification Arab terrorists use for killing Israeli children – they could grow up to be Israeli soldiers? Yosef’s call for a plague on Palestinians only days before the Washington conference looked very much like an attempt to sabotage the peace talks even before they began. An unnamed Shas aide, apparently attempting damage control, told one Israeli paper that Yosef privately supports continuing the settlement freeze, but another denied it.
When Netanyahu demands an end to Palestinian incitement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can tell him to “get your own house in order.”
Make no mistake, Palestinian incitement is far worse and more pervasive than Israeli incitement, but that is no excuse for tolerating and even venerating hate-mongers like Ovadia Yosef, who erode Israel’s moral authority and diminish prospects for a real peace.
Incitement is a more serious threat to peace than settlements, because it undermines the public support and goodwill both leaders will need when they try to sell their constituents the tough compromises they claim they are prepared to make.
There’s no shortage of Israeli politicians and Jewish organizations quick to condemn Muslim leaders for failing to denounce Islamic extremists, but when the incitement comes from a prominent rabbi, they’re suddenly struck dumb. Two rare exceptions were the Reform Movement, which called Yosef’s comments “morally reprehensible,” and the Anti-Defamation League, which declared that “incendiary expressions contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred.”
Most other organizations were silent or had to be prodded for a comment.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rightly condemned Yosef’s “inflammatory” words as “deeply offensive” and damaging to “the cause of peace.”
But where is he when Muslim leaders (except for Ahmadinejad) hurl similar invective at Israel and Jews? It is no excuse to shrug off Yosef’s invective by saying the Arabs are worse. Since when does Israel measure its moral stature by that yardstick?