By Omar Radwan
Vitriolic racism and hatred has become the Israeli norm
Israel appears to be awash with Jewish hate preachers. In the past, rabbis who issued racist edicts or offensive remarks about Palestinians or non-Jews were generally dismissed as radicals and extremists who were no more than a trifling annoyance to be ignored in the hope that they would simply go away. However, it is now clear that ignoring this problem has only made it worse. In the current climate in Israel, extremist hate preaching has apparently become the norm and it is being embraced, not just on the extreme political right but also by a disturbing number of Israelis in general, be they preachers, politicians, settlers or simply ordinary citizens. Hate-filled Israelis have become emboldened over the years by the knowledge that they can say and do almost anything without fear, knowing that they will not be condemned or, if they are, that nothing will come of it. That is due to the widespread support for their views across Israeli society as well as their religious leaders and the political elite.
What is particularly disturbing is that leading Israeli rabbis, who are meant to be the spiritual and moral guides of the Jewish people, are actually encouraging racism, physical violence and even the killing of Palestinians.
It is no longer shocking to read headlines such as "Leading rabbi encourages IDF soldiers to use Palestinian human shields". This particular headline relates to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who taught his students that "according to true Jewish values, your lives come before those of the enemy, whether he is a soldier or a civilian under protection. Therefore, you are forbidden from endangering your own life for the sake of the enemy, not even for a civilian." This sort of teaching, no doubt, goes some way towards explaining why the number of cases in which Palestinian children are being used as human shields by Israeli forces is increasing.
Vicious levels of discrimination against non-Jews have now escalated to the point that when Israelis of a more reasonable persuasion do something as simple as, for example, rent a property to an Arab, rabbis are now calling for them to be shunned and boycotted by their own Jewish communities. A recent report in Haaretz quoted a letter signed by a group of 18 prominent rabbis, including the Chief Rabbi of Safed, who wrote that renting properties to Arabs would deflate the value of Jewish homes and, "The neighbours and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed".
It is not just Muslims who are on the receiving end of this campaign of hatred; even Christians in the region have long been subjected to disturbing and widespread campaigns of abuse from Israeli Jews. "I hate to say it", said Roman Catholic Father Massimo Pazzini of the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa, "but we've grown accustomed to this. Jewish religious fanatics spitting at Christian priests and nuns has become a tradition."
The term "hate preacher" has often been used in the Western media about Muslims but it seems more appropriate to describe some of the Israeli rabbis for their recent statements and guidance.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
In the run-up to the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian "peace negotiations" Rabbi Ovadia Yosef wished that "all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas], vanish from our world". He went on to say, "May God strike them down with the plague along with all the nasty Palestinians who persecute Israel."
Although his statement was immediately condemned by America it did not come as a surprise to people who were already familiar with his 2001 call for the annihilation of Arabs, at which point he also said it was forbidden to be merciful to them.
Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro
In his controversial book The King's Torah, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro sanctioned the murder by Jews of non-Jews, including babies and children, who may pose an actual or potential threat to Jews or to Israel.
"It is permissible to kill the Righteous among non-Jews even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation," he wrote. "If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments because we care about the commandments there is nothing wrong with the murder."
This edict was seemingly made in response to the arrest of a Jewish terrorist who confessed to murdering two Palestinian shepherds in the West Bank, and was thus used to justify the killings.
According to a report by Khalid Amayreh in November 2009, "During the Israeli onslaught against Gaza earlier this year, Mordecahi Elyahu, one of the leading rabbinic figures in Israel, urged the army not to refrain from killing enemy children in order to save the lives of Israeli soldiers. He had even petitioned the Israeli government to carry out a series of carpet bombing of Palestinian population centres in Gaza. 'If they don't stop after we kill 100,' said the rabbi, 'then we must kill a thousand. And if they do not stop after we kill a thousand, then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop, we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to stop them'."
According to Eliyahu's obituary in the Daily Telegraph in June this year
Rabbi Eliyahu wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to say that, according to Jewish war ethics, an entire city (he referred to Gaza City) holds collective responsibility for the immoral behaviour of individuals.
Thus, he continued, there was no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians during a potential massive military offensive in Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket attacks. He ended his letter quoting from the Psalms: "I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them."
He extended his hatred to those individuals worldwide who even show the slightest incidental support for Palestinians and said of the hundreds of thousands killed in 2004 by the Asian tsunami "those who died were paying for their governments' support of the Palestinians."
With statements such as these it is paradoxical Muslim preachers such as Dr Zakir Naik and Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, whose views are very moderate in comparison, are labelled as extremists. Although for years now Muslim leaders have (often undeservedly) been vilified as the most hate-filled preachers in the world, that title is now surely more deserved by Israeli rabbis such as those mentioned above.
By any means necessary, no matter how immoral, or corrupt.
It is strange for the spiritual leaders of a "chosen" people who stake their claim to the "holy" land use methods to achieve their goals that are decidedly "unholy". One recent ruling by Rabbi Ari Schvat, for example, gave "his blessing to female agents of Israel's foreign secret service, Mossad, who may be required to have sex with the enemy in so-called 'honey-pot' missions against terrorists." While there is apparently no limit on Jewish men using sex in an effort to infiltrate the enemy, he did make a few remarks about Jewish female 'honey-pots' stating, "If it is necessary to use a married woman, it would be best [for] her husband to divorce her… After the [sex] act, he would be entitled to bring her back." He also added, "Naturally, a job of that sort could be given to a woman who in any event is licentious in her ways." So, not only are these rabbis genocidal, but sexist as well.
That such comments are not causing moral outrage amongst conservative Jews in Israel and, indeed, in Jewish communities worldwide, is worrying. The concept of a woman defiling herself and committing any act of lewdness or adultery is something alien to most religions but the fact that Jewish women are being given the green light by Israel's rabbis to use such lascivious means to achieve the goals of Mossad demonstrates further that Israel really does not have any moral line across which it will not go.
The standard response to an article like this is to condemn it as "anti-Semitic". That is neither the intention nor, it is contended, the result; the statements quoted have been issued or uttered by rabbis and well-publicised. Some may even be directly responsible for the subsequent killings of innocent Palestinian civilians. Instead of lining up to shoot the messenger, detractors should pause instead and really consider what these rabbis have said; and then decide whether reporting anti-Gentile statements made by rabbis really does qualify as anti-Semitism. There are many Jews and rabbis in congregations all over the world who are desperate for peace in the Holy Land and are striving to stand up for the common humanity of us all, regardless of our faith background.
According to New York-based Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, rabbis like those quoted above "do not and cannot represent Judaism or the Torah," Indeed, Rabbi Weiss goes one step further: "The Zionist State of 'Israel', which is a rebellion against the Almighty, cannot represent the Torah or world Jewry true to the Torah." Referring to Rabbi Ovadia Yusef in particular, Rabbi Weiss added: "This rabbi is a member of Sephardic Jewry, Jews from Arab countries. If he would only look back at his own community's history, he would realize that Jews can, and did, live peacefully with Arabs, for many centuries. When Jews were persecuted, killed and expelled in other parts of the world, the Arab countries provided a safe haven and welcomed Jews with open arms. In Palestine as well, Jews enjoyed this hospitality when Palestinians and Jews co-existed in harmony for many generations, as is well-documented in Jewish books of that era. It was only Zionism, with its theft and oppression of the Palestinian people, that put an end to this co-existence." (http://www.nkusa.org/activities/Statements/20100819.cfm)
Racism and extremist preachers must be challenged, not least when they ply their wares in volatile areas like the Holy Land, where words can and all too often lead to murderous acts. People of faith and good faith must stand up to incitement to hatred; it would be refreshing to hear more leading rabbis condemning the hate preachers in Israel. Their silence is deafening.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.