Today Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and controversial orthodox Jewish activist, died at the age of 93 in Jerusalem. As one of Israel’s most prominent religious figures, Yosef frequently ran into trouble for his avid racism. He once claimed, for example, that Hurricane Katrina was black people’s divine punishment for not studying the Torah. That didn’t stop Bill de Blasio, currently the front-runner in New York City’s mayoral race, from praising his legacy.
Millions of people around the world lost a leader today in Rabbi Chacham Ovadia Yosef. His wisdom, charity and sensitivity were legendary.— Bill de Blasio (@BilldeBlasio) October 7, 2013
Where to start? Here are a few of Yosef’s greatest hits:
- On black people affected by Hurricane Katrina: “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study… black people reside there (in New Orleans). Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let’s bring a tsunami and drown them. Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.”
- On Arabs: “It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.” (Yosef later claimed he was only speaking about Arabs who were trying to kill Jews.)
- On Palestinians: “[Palestinian President] Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.” (Yosef later apologized.)
- On literally everyone who isn’t Jewish: “Goyim 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.”
Yosef also called gay people “sick” and warned of the threat of gay teachers: “If the teacher lives a perverted lifestyle, what is vernacularly called a homosexual, one must be very careful when studying with such a person.” Apart from orthodox Jews, Yosef was an equal-opportunity bigot.
So why would de Blasio, who enjoys a gaping lead over Republican opponent Joe Lhota, go out of his way to praise Yosef’s racist bile? Who knows. But he’s not alone in ignoring the existence or intensity of Yosef’s comments. In their respective obituaries, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both omitted the rabbi’s comments on black people, while the Associated Press decided to water them down: “In 2007, he said that Israeli soldiers died in battle because they were not religious enough and said the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. suffered ‘because they have no God.’”
(By contrast, in the 10th paragraph of its Jerry Falwell obituary, the Times detailed the conservative pastor’s comments about 9/11 and the Teletubbies’ Tinky Winky, who “could be a hidden homosexual signal, because the character was purple, had a triangle on its head and carried a handbag.”)
A spokesman for de Blasio declined to comment on the record.
[Photo credit: Associated Press]