U.S.: Rabbi's 'Offensive' Remarks Harm Peace Efforts

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley condemns Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's 'inflammatory' statement that all Palestinians should perish.

The United States on Sunday condemned remarks by the spiritual leader of Israel's leading ultra-Orthodox party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said the Palestinians should "perish".

"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. "These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace."

"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."

Yosef had said during his weekly Shabbat sermon that the Palestinians, namely Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, should perish from the world. Yosef, a founder of the Shas Party, also described Palestinians as evil, bitter enemies of Israel.

"All these evil people should perish from this world ... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians," Yosef had said.

Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef
Daniel Bar-On

The 89-year-old is a respected religious scholar but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays, among others.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Monday also condemned Rabbi Yosef's comments as “offensive and incendiary,” cautioning that his words “contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred.”

"Particularly on the eve of renewed peace talks, and on the eve of the Jewish New Year, one would have hoped that Rav Yosef could have inspired his students and followers with a message of hope, humility, repentance and forgiveness," said a statement from ADL chief Abraham Foxman.

"These comments do not exist in a vacuum – such incendiary expressions contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred."‬

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday distanced himself from Yosef's remarks, but stopped short of a condemnation.

"Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's remarks do not reflect Netanyahu's views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

"Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples," the statement continued.

Palestinian U.S. envoy Maen Rashid Aerekat slammed the Rabbi's remarks, saying they were paramount to incitement to genocide.

“We are very disappointed. It comes from the spiritual leader representing large party in the coalition, large segment of the Israeli society. When he makes such incitement against our leadership and the Palestinian people – he is actually telling thousands of his followers to harm the Palestinian people," he said.

"People in Israel whine about Palestinian incitement after sermon in some isolated mosque at the West Bank – and when someone like Ovadia Yossef says something – the Prime Minister doesn’t even have a decency to say: “I am opposed to it, I condemn it."

"Internal politics for the Israeli leaders today is more important than even their own principles. It‘s an example of the Israeli official incitement. Unfortunately, it didn’t get the condemnation from the Israeli leadership it deserved," Aerekat added.