Influential Israeli rabbi Ovadia Yosef has said God should strike the Palestinians and their leader with a plague, calling for their death in a fiery sermon before Middle East peace talks set to begin next week.
“Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this earth,” Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual head of the religious Shas party in Israel’s government, said in a sermon late Saturday, using Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s popular name.
“God should strike them and these Palestinians — evil haters of Israel — with a plague,” the 89-year-old rabbi said in his weekly address to the faithful, excerpts of which were broadcast on Israeli radio Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from the comments and said Israel wanted to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians that would ensure good neighbourly relations.
The United States said Yosef’s comments were “inflammatory” and an impediment to peace efforts.
“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,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.
President Barack Obama’s administration is hosting Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington this week to try to restart direct Mideast peace negotiations after a nearly two-year hiatus.
He has made similarly offensive comments before: He has referred to Arabs as “vipers,” and in a 2001 sermon during the Jewish holiday of Passover, he called for Israel to “annihilate” Arabs.
“It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them,” he said. “They are evil and damnable.”
Yosef’s provocations are not limited to Arabs, either: In 2005, he blamed Hurricane Katrina on the “godlessness” of New Orleans, and on former US president George Bush’s support for Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. And last year, he criticised women who pray at the Western Wall as “stupid”.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Yosef’s latest comments were tantamount to calling for “genocide against Palestinians.” The rabbi’s remarks, he said, were “an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process.”
Israeli’s have to do more for peace and stop spreading hatred.