Saturday, October 12

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Gentiles exist only to serve Jews

Torah and Curses

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rabbi Ovaid Yosef
Rabbi Ovaid Yosef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Shas party logo
Shas party logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We witnessed a great burial circus on 7th Oct 2013 when the icon of a rather twisted, macabre mix of politics and "hell and brimstone" pseudo-Sephardi Judaism, sought greener pastures. According to estimates, 850 000 people attended his funeral. Time will tell what legacy he left his followers and even further afield beyond Israel's borders in the Jewish world of the diaspora.

There is no doubt that he was a genius in interpretation of Torah and Talmud as well as being an expert on Halacha (Jewish Law). He had made some rather revolutionary rulings in his time as well as justifying the return of occupied territory for true peace in the name of "pikuach nefesh" (saving of lives). Another example is the permitting of women (agunot), whose husbands, declared missing because of Israel's wars, to remarry. He also made rulings on Ethiopian Jewry accepting them as true Jews in Israel. We can give Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef credit for these rulings. He had made other rulings that were less publicised that in the context of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism were progressive rulings.

In this article, my intention is not to write a biography but to write about some aspects of his behavior and utterances which were intolerant, lacking in tact and were down right insulting towards many Israelis and non-Jews who did not hold his world view (or lack of it).

He began his involvement in politics and became the mentor of the Shas Party, whose sole purpose was to be in the coalition of any Israeli Government in power in order to further their own partisan interests.

These interests involved syphoning some of the tax-payers' money into their own coffers for their Yeshivot (Religious schools of Torah Studies). The purpose of the Shas Party was to fight for equality of religious Sephardi Jews from North Africa and Arab countries in the Middle East, who felt downtrodden by the Ashkenazi "elite" who were the policy makers in the Knesset.

There was a great "persecution complex" amongst many Sephardi Jews. This was partly justifiable. Anyway he got a rather motley crew of ultra-Orthodox Sephardi supporters whose records were dubious. Some of these questionable characters were charismatic and they played on the feelings of many religious Sephardim, brainwashing them about their suffering and being the underdog of the Ashkenazim. These tactics were very successful and the Shas Party gained 17 seats in the Knesset in the 1999 general election.

This Shas Party has done very little to help their Sephardi supporters. Sephardi interpretation of Judaism was always tolerant and liberal in the countries of its origin. Families were close and loving and there was never religious coercion as in the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian tradition. Shas became a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) religious paradox with an increasing show of intolerance towards the secular and Arabs. This was a result of the control of the Shas Party by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

His legacy was divisive, creating polarization between Ashkenazim and Sephardim at a time when the peoples that compose Israel's Jews were a new generation that went to school together as well as growing up in the same towns.

The paradox in the Shas Party was such that its members copied the Lithuanian Haredi-style of dress and many of them were educated in Lithuanian-style yeshivot. If you look at a Haredi from Shas and a Haredi from the Torah Judaism Party you cannot tell the difference. Many Shas members were educated in Ashkenazi Lithuanian Yeshivot which is a far cry from Sephardi institutions of Torah learning. They even sent their offspring to Ashkenazi yeshivot.

On the one hand Shas members spoke on Sephardi religious issues and uplifting their communities, in practice, they did neither. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef remained their mentor and became an icon until his death. Who knows the degree of manipulation he underwent in the inevitable factional fighting amongst the various party members in their scramble for influence and power coupled with returning many "lost souls" to the macabre Shas religious fold based on the Lithuanian Haredi tradition.

Shas established institutions not for the purpose of educating their communities to have professions that were marketable but rather to be dependent on Shas handouts to keep them learned in Torah and be "Talmidei Hahamim"( clever students eternally studying Torah in their style). This created total dependence on Shas and on handouts from the state. This remains the Shas power base today for which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef z"l played an important part in achieving.

Those Sephardim who managed to reach a par with their Ashkenazi counterparts achieved this despite Shas because of their desire to progress and achieve. Shas, by indoctrination of the economically weak, by using their narrow world view to fill their coffers and increase their power base. They provided soup kitchens for their poor and social services in order to gain power. In this tactic they are no different from Hamas.
In the last decade or two, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef z"l had upset many people with his curses and hateful rhetoric against those who did not hold his narrow world view. His remarks about those who perished in the Holocaust lacked sensitivity and was appalling.

Was this an act of desperation against those whom he failed to return to the Ashkenazi or pseudo-Sephardi religious fold that he had devoted his life or desired to keep the Sephardi community dependent on Shas handouts from coalition deals? Who knows? He had made some horrible, hateful statements unbecoming of a person of his stature. Every time he did this he caused stormy reactions. He was surrounded by self-style "interpreters" stating that "he must not be taken literally and this is his way of spreading his wisdom in a rather original way". Weird but true.

In retrospect, he failed to uplift those Sephardim who were economically weak because of his world view - the enemy of the people his party claimed to represent and uplift to get them into the job market. He received funds for creating a greater Sephardi religious ultra-Orthodox community that does not work or serve in the Israeli Army. He was no progressive rabbi by any stretch of the imagination, the day he entered politics. He enlarged an already growing community of "hazera l'thsuva" - return to a fundamental, racist, religious fold.

One may ask: What has this to do with peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Plenty! The followers of Shas are hawkish and in later years Rabbi Ovadia Yosef spared no words in his hate for Arabs and non-Jews. If this legacy is followed, this country will move further to the right and its racist overtones.

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Saturday, October 5

Iran and Israel at UNGA

On 1st October  Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his UNGA( United Nations General Assembly) speech. It was an unimaginative speech, honed for those who support his view and his right wing Knesset members at home. His tactic of denying the Israeli UN delegation to listen to Iranian's new President Hassan Ruhani's speech at UNGA, was an emotional, childish knee-jerk reaction, which did nothing to promote Israel's interests at all. Maybe it would not have made any difference to Iran had Israel's UN delegation remained in the hall while Rohani was delivering his speech. It could have been a tactical advantage in the eyes of the countries present on Israel's readiness to cooperate with the US on the issue of Iran's nuclear weapon programme. Israel has very few allies because of the complicated occupation of the Palestinians and its denial of human rights to the Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank overlooked by Netanyahu in his speech.

Netanyahu's emphasis on democracy compared to Iran and other Arab countries is questionable. In the occupied territories, where nationalist right wing Religious Zionists live illegally wield great influence on the Netanyahu - Lieberman - Bennett Coalition. They exploit  the Palestinians, uprooting their Olive Oil Trees, Orange Groves, as well as destroying their homes.  The police have never made any arrests, despite Palestinian complaints. There is also the Price Tag violence of desecration of non-Jewish gravestones, mosques and churches. We must bear in mind that Price Tag is a movement of religious hooligans and  an offshoot of  right wing extreme nationalist ideology with its roots in the religious Zionist parties of Israel.

Netanyahu's speech just emphasized his attitude towards any form of change in Iran. He never told us anything that we do not know already. He continued his uncompromising attack on Ruhani in order to divert the world's attention from the occupation. He did mention his support for a two-state solution because it is music to the ears of the US. He talks about expecting action rather than words in the case of Iran concerning its nuclear programme. This applies to Netanyahu as well. He talks about a two-state solution but he does everything in his power to prevent it from occurring. It is not the phoney cosmetic peace negotiations that is taking place behind closed doors, but also the increased settlement activity in the occupied West Bank. This must come at the expense of the future Palestinian state. Building of settlements in the territories is not done for the purpose of demolishing them as part of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

These illegal settlements ("legal settlements" in the eyes of the right wing and Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi Party - right wing Zionist religious party) are to remain according to Netanyahu. He talks about "painful concessions" that he is prepared to make for true peace and security for Israel. It is doubtful if there will be "painful concessions". He has already hinted as to what he is not prepared to do which does not leave much leeway for his more than vague "painful concessions".

So, what is Netanyahu talking about when actions are more important than rhetoric? This applies to him no less than Ruhani of Iran. He seems to overlook that in order to please his narrow group of intolerant right wing supporters. The world is seeking a new deal. A breath of fresh rhetoric is coming from Iran that is pleasing to the ears of the US. It should be pleasing to Israel as well. While it is true that Israel has every right not to trust Iran. The evil Ahadinajad has spoken many times about wiping Israel off the map. The virulent anti-Israel rhetoric coming from Iran does give cause for concern. It would have been preferable if Ruhani was more accommodating in accepting Israel's right to exist. Unfortunately he was not. He should be given more time on that issue. We should examine the content of Ruhani's speech which is a far cry from the bluster and rhetoric of Ahmadinajad. Netanyahu blew it and isolated Israel even further.

Netanyahu is oblivious of the possible "winds of change" occurring in Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is Ruhani's boss. What he says Rohani has to accept. Whatever the motives of Iran's tactics towards the US, there is a place for cautious optimism with very strong verification that Iran's change of tactics is matched with deeds when it comes to dismantling his nuclear facilities  geared for making a nuclear bomb. There is no argumemt about that. The heavy sanctions imposed on Iran is the main reason why Iran changed its tactics. Economically Iran's situation is bad. Much still has to be achieved in order to ease those sanctions.

The Palestinian issue is an excuse for Iran's negative attitude towards Israel. Iran does not care about the Palestinians. They care even less than Israel does. This does not say very much for Iran as their human rights record towards its own citizens is appalling. The Palestinians are Sunni Muslims while Iranians are Shiites. It is no secret that Sunnis and Shiites hate each other throughout history and still do to this day. Iran wants to control the Middle East and the Arab countries are aware of this no less than Israel and this incliudes controlling the Palestinians as well, replacing their leadership with a Shiite leadership at a later stage.

Iran has a long way to go to prove that Ruhani's speech is a prelude for true peace. There are still obstacles and it is doubtful if Iran will open all its nuclear facilities for international inspection. Meanwhile Ruhani's sweet words stand the test of time p
roving Iran genuine in its attitude towards peace or not. He has not gone far enough and probably will not. He has Ayatollah Khameini breathing down his neck and it is unlikely that the latter will give him power even to make peace with Israel. We just have to adopt a wait and see attitude.

Israel has Hezbollah terrorists under the evil, charismatic leader Hassan Nasrallah, who is a supporter of the Ayatollah regime of Iran. He is not lacking in rhetoric against Israel and still has a very uncompromising and hateful attitude towards Israel. He has been placed on the back-burner for the time being and we do not know if Iran's attitude towards him will change as a result of Ruhani's rhetoric towards peace with the West.

Much groundwork still has to be done in order to confirm Iran's intentions. Iran's hostility towards Israel has to change and Israel must show its readiness to accept that change as well. It would be in Israel's interests to give Obama a chance to use diplomacy to get rid of Iran's nuclear weapon capability and give the US support. Any deviation towards Israel military action against Iran will not achieve anything. The whole Middle East is potentially under nuclear threat from Iran and the US has interests in curbing that threat to zero.
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