JPost agrees to hide opinions of Israel's most racist rabbi

December 21, 2012
Sarah Benton

UPDATED 22 December 2012

Jerusalem Post’s Self-Censorship Protects Leading Religious Leader, Cleanses Israeli Racism

By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
December 20, 2012

This post began the way a good number of them do: an enterprising Israeli noticed a newspaper article had been available online for an hour or a day or a year and then, all of a sudden, it disappeared. What happened? Who ya gonna call (to paraphrase Ghostbusters)? Who else? So thanks to David Sheen, the enterprising videographer, and documentarian of Israel’s anti-African race hate, for noting the following mysterious disappearance.

A Jerusalem Post report from 2010 featured some especially noxious remarks by Shas founder, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, likening non-Jews to donkeys whose job was to serve Jews in the days of the messiah. This Nana-Channel 10 report features video of the former chief rabbi’s original statements. Here are a few passages translated:

The Goyim were only created to serve us. If that wasn’t the case they [Goyim] would have no place in the world.

…Jews earn eternal life in the days of the messiah. Goyim don’t. Like all people, they must die. But they earn long life. Why? Think about someone’s donkey. If it dies, he loses it, the money. The same with a servant [ or “the one who serves you”]. You also lose money [when he dies]. That’s why Goyim are given long life so they may work well for the Jews.

…Why do Goyim exist? So that they work [for Jews]. They thresh, they plant, they harvest, while we [Jews] sit like effendi and eat [our fill]. That’s why Goyim were created.

The remarks are especially important in the context of the Israeli work force which is filled with poor migrant labor from around the world, but especially from Asia and Africa. Without this cheap, victimized workd force, Israel’s economy (especially the agricultural sector) couldn’t function.

It’s no accident that some of the most virulently racist language attacking African refugees in Israel has come from the Shas interior minister and disciple of Rabbi Yosef, Eli Yishai. In this sense, Yishai is giving license to his followers to incite such hate through sermons like this one.

The remarks also impact (or should) the close relationship between the evangelical Christian Zionist movement and the Likud-settler political agenda. Though it’s doubtful anything can break the hold of this ideological kinship, at least true believers like Hagee and his flock should know that they’re held in deep disdain by Rabbi Yosef and tens of thousands of his true believers.

In the past few weeks the Post article, which had been publicly-accessible since publication, vanished. When clicked, the old link brought a reader back to the Post’s main page. There wasn’t even a Page Not Found message. Just gone. Why?

I called the Post and spoke briefly to the editor of the online edition, who asked me to send an e mail. After I did, I received a response from Steve Linde, the editor, who wrote that he ordered the article expunged after receiving a condemnation of the Rabbi’s remarks from a reader who was affronted by them and believed they would encourage anti-Semitism. Because of the supposed danger that this posed to Jews and the Post’s own responsibility for fomenting such violence, the central European reader, in stilted Germanic-phrased English, insisted that it be removed:

The speech [by Rabbi Yosef] is frightening and should be removed from access. The content is (1) not true Judaism and (2) harmful to the Jews all over the world.

1. His sayings violate the European Convention on Human Rights – which Israel is committed to.

2. Such speech is doubtless to be categorized as definite hate-speech, it would be prosecuted due to Criminal Law in European States.

We, the Jews in the Galut, seek protection by law enforcement against hate speech nowadays from Muslims and Nazis. We, Jews, should therefore not be excepted from those standards, we claim for.

3. We, the Jews in the Galut, are sensitive against Hate Speech specialy in Europe, after experiences of Nazism and Antisemitism.

4. That Rabbi is irresopnsible about the Jews in the Galut, but also for the Jews living in Israel. Any withdrawal or correction of his words is missing. Your distribution extends the broadcasting.

5. The source and proof of his sayings is not retraceable as based on thora. It is contradicting to core principles of humanity and equal diginity of men…

7. The resonsibility of Broadcasters is to be claimed, for distributing Hate Speech uncontrolled. We criticise muslim media for broad-casting hate against jews. How are ours ?

8. It is the responsibility of competing media, as JP, to claim, that such “nonsense thora” which is merely “succed out of the fingers;” deserves to be daemonized.

9. It is in the responsibility of the Official Israel, the Cabinet, to mark clearly and expressively her distance from such speech, which its intentions are not and against the standards of a “Jewish State of Israel” they claim for. Because : R. Yossef is not just a irrelevant “stibl darschan”.

10. It is the obligation of Israeli Prosecutors to investigate and check the criminal charge of the speech, as they would have to act in case of a muslim hate speech of that category.

11. It is the responsibility of the Chief Rabbanut to correct and to eliminate such pseudology as being not part of the Jewish Religion and Jewish Self-understandig.

Further they have to provide to the public in the future responsible content, which is correcting that wrong attituded ideology.

12. That Rabbi destroys any credibility of believers in Judaism. Belivers and Chilonim have the duty and obligation to ban explicite and clearly such poisoning snaky bits.

13. I cannot understand, why that Rabbi is harming the identity of Jews all over the world, which do have to stand their belive in the eyes of toleant goim and against the critic friends of jews. If due to his curled logic, we deserve to be humiliated – in retorsion.

14. I cannot understand, why I have to defend my suchwise discredited jeopardized Jewishness against goim, who will refer to his authoratiative Speech.

15. Expecting some consequences, pls delete your report from J.P. accessibility

Though I sympathize with some of the arguments offered by the reader, especially the ones critical of Yosef’s tenuous connection to actual Jewish sources, the stance of the reader and the Post’s subsequent actions should be seen in a far different context. What is the purpose of a newspaper? Or to be more explicit, a Jewish newspaper? Are those purposes different? If so, why?

Is it the responsibility of a Jewish newspaper to protect the sensibilities of its readers? To censor from its pages news that is either disturbing or troubling or even possibly dangerous in some ill-defined way (I’m not talking about an article that reveals personal information that might put a specific person in danger)? Is the Jewish periodical’s primary duty as a journalistic enterprise to Judaism or journalism? What if there is a conflict between the two?

Clearly, the Post editor chose the easy way out on this one. He could’ve engaged with the reader’s suggestions and asked for an editorial denouncing Yosef’s comments. He could’ve even asked for another news article in which the reporter queried the police as to whether the rabbi’s drasha violated Israeli law. He couldn’t asked for comment from Israeli religious authorities on the statements to put them into a more critical context.

Instead, he opted to take the article down. Among the many reasons that this was a terrible idea: a newspaper is the media forum of record for a community. It tells us what we did and said on any given day in time. It is a reflection of who we were at that moment. If we decide to fudge and shape that record by removing the nasty bits then we will leave a distorted record of who we were. Instead of showing the real people of our time, we show a prettied up version. One that doesn’t rock the boat. That doesn’t overly upset anyone. It’s history gussified, a photo retouched in order to remove wrinkles and other blemishes.

If Jewish leaders espouse racist views should we expunge them from the record and pretend they didn’t happen? Or should we address them head on and rebut them vigorously? Do we take the easy way or the hard? Does it serve the nation for Israel’s leading English-language paper to refinish and retouch contemporary Israeli reality?

I don’t mean only to single out the Post here since all Jewish media, almost without exception, is guilty of this practice in one form or another. The allegiance isn’t to journalistic principle, accuracy or even truth, but rather to some polite, unthreatening consensus of who we are as Jews. Jewish newspapers don’t rock the boat. They generally tilt pretty far to the right in terms of pro-Israel views, but they try to avoid the extremes (at least as they see them). Don’t offend the sensibilities of the readers, seems to be the rallying cry.

This isn’t journalism. It’s boosterism. It’s looking at our existence as Jews through blue and white colored glasses. It does no one any favors.

Sarah Benton of Jews for Justice for Palestinians pointed out that Haaretz covered this same story in 2010 and thankfully has different journalistic standards, as its story remains available here.

When Jewish historians looks back in 100 years over these times, the publications that will be least useful to them will be the ones that pulled their punches, that censored or tailored their coverage to what they thought people wanted to read instead of what really happened.

In the particular case of this story, Linde’s decision was especially unfortunate. Yosef is a former chief rabbi and the founder of the most powerful religious party serving in the Knesset. He is a political king maker. Even Bibi Netanyahu consults with the rabbi and solicits his blessing for an attack on Iran. What this man says has vital bearing on Israeli society. If he’s a stark-raving racist lunatic, then expunging his remarks from the online record does a terrible disservice to the Israeli public who ought to have a record of his remarks to consult.

When pro-Israel advocates point to the perceived outrages of the nation’s Arab enemies they love to talk about anti-Semitism, racism, genocide. All the normal tricks of the trade of the political spinmaster. But the Post has done political debate a great disservice by making it less possible for researchers to know that there is as much racism and ignorance on the Israeli side as there is in the Arab world. The only way we can come to an accommodation in the long run is by recognizing that each side is wrong and each side is right. None is all wrong, none all right. To know this, to understand that we are each flawed, allows us to come to terms with each other eventually. What the Post has done has made it harder for Jews to recognize their own flaws in order to combat and rectify them.

Further, Israel is in the middle of election season. Shas, Yosef’s political party, promises to play a key role in determining the next government. Again, voters deserve the right to know everything the candidates and their mentors say on issues of import to the nation.

One may argue that at his advanced age, Yosef may be barely in control of his mental or verbal faculties (his speech is barely intelligible and required Hebrew subtitles for TV viewers). Like Pat Robertson, he’s prone to frequent embarrassing gaffes of this type. These incidents invariably hold the Rabbi and his movement up to scorn. But they do nothing to distance his followers from him. Their adoration has no bearing on logic or reason. Which is part of the danger of the movement he leads.

Despite his infirmities, what Yosef says matters. It has impact on the nation. It should not be cleansed. It should be seen and read and debated.

Finally, lest any bona fide anti-Semites be reading this, know that Ovadia Yosef is about as authentic a representative of any authentically Jewish tradition as any radical Islamist cleric is of Islam or John Hagee is of Christianity. In other words, before you make the claim that what Yosef says represents what most Jews believe you better be ready to make the same claim of Muslims and Christians. We know that these individuals, no matter how noxious their views and how many followers they have, do not represent more than a small minority of the adherents of their particular faith.

I do concede that Yosef is especially dangerous because he is well-connected both religiously and politically. His views do reflect those of many Israelis, (but not of most Jews, not nearly). It’s one of the special themes in fact of this blog: warning readers of Israel’s decline into a vortex of racism and hate. But let’s be careful not to overgeneralize.

I’ve captured a screenshot of the Google cache version of the page here so you can read the original story.

ADL slams Shas spiritual leader for saying non-Jews ‘were born to serve Jews’

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says in Saturday sermon that ‘Goyim have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel’; ADL chief calls Yosef’s words ‘hateful’ and ‘divisive’.

By Natasha Mozgovaya and Haaretz Service
October 20, 2010

Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef Photo by Daniel Bar-On

The Anti-Defamation League on Tuesday condemned comments about non-Jews made this past weekend by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

In a sermon given on Saturday on laws concerning what non-Jews are permitted to do on Shabbat, Yosef said: “Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”

“Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.”

According to Yosef, death has “no dominion” over non-Jews in Israel.

“With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant… That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

On Tuesday, the ADL said that Yosef’s comments contributed “to an atmosphere of hatred and a global trend of intolerance.”

“It is disturbing to see any religious leader, and particularly Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, use their podium to preach such hateful and divisive ideas,” ADL chief Abraham H. Foxman said.

“In a world where bigotry and prejudice are prevalent, it is especially important for religious leaders to use their influence to teach respect and acceptance,” he continued.

In August, Yosef sparked controversy when he called for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “perish from this world” and said that Palestinians were “evil, bitter enemies of Israel.”

[*Shas was founded in 1984 to represent the Orthodox and observant Sephardim and Mizrahim. The party is an active player in Israel’s coalition politics having developed a set of anti-Palestinian and very right-wing positions.]

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