US Government Condemns Rabbi?

Posted on August 30, 2010 In Blog

It’s being widely reported that Rav Ovadia Yosef delivered a sermon in which he called for Palestinian President Abbas to “perish from this world.”

This provocative statement, not HaRav Ovadia’s first, has yielded questions about whether Jews condemn extremist statements by Jews as vigorously as we call upon Arabs to do, to which the ADL, at least, has answered “yes.”

But perhaps most remarkable in this episode is that Rav Ovadia’s statement yielded a rebuke from the U.S. State Department.

“We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. We note the Israeli statement that the rabbi’s comments do not reflect the views of the prime minister,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement Sunday.

While Rav Ovadia is the “spiritual leader” of the Shas political party which is a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, and holds sway over many Israelis far beyond the boundaries of Shas, Rav Ovadia is not an elected official or a member of the Israeli government in any way. Moreover, as acknowledged by the State Dept. spokesman, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a statement making it quite clear that Rav Ovadia’s statement was rejected by him and his government.

Why is the United States government getting into the business of condemning the sermon remarks of a (admittedly leading) rabbi?

When was the last time the State Department spokesman publicly rebuked a sermon delivered by an Imam in the Palestinian areas that contained words of hate and incitement against Jews?

(And by the way, now that Rav Ovadia has reportedly expressed a willingness to support an extension on the settlement freeze if PM Netanyahu wants to extend it, over the objection of other coalition partners, will the State Department now issue words of praise for Rav Ovadia?)

Religion, and religious leaders play a critical role in the world and the State Dept. will do well to better understand the role of religion and how religious leaders can help resolve global conflicts. But Foggy Bottom should stay out of the business of publicly opining on clergy statements – whether they like them or not.