Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, chief rabbi of settlements in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], leading figure in the religious Zionist movement (Photo Credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, chief rabbi of settlements in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], leading figure in the religious Zionist movement (Photo Credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

The following are excerpts from a longer fact sheet from the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) on state-sanctioned incitement among Israel’s extremist rabbis. The complete fact sheet can be found here.


Chief rabbi of the city of Safed, candidate for chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel

  • In November 2011, Israel’s attorney general opened an investigation into Eliyahu for “suspicion of incitement to racism” for remarks he made several months earlier. He reportedly said: “Arab culture is very cruel… Arabs use different codes and violent norms that amount to an ideology. Just like their stealing agricultural products is an ideology. Just like extortion of protection money from farmers in the Negev is an ideology.” He also declared: “A Jew should not run away from an Arab. A Jew should chase away Arabs… Expelling Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy.” The investigation was subsequently closed without any charges being filed.
  • In 2010, Eliyahu was one of the initiators of a religious ruling calling on Jews not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs and other non-Jews. Some 50 Israeli rabbis, including more than 40 municipal chief rabbis, who like Eliyahu are on the government payroll, subsequently signed on to the ruling, which read in part:

“Their way of life is different than that of Jews… Among [the gentiles] are those who are bitter and hateful toward us and who meddle into our lives to the point where they are a danger… The neighbors 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.”

Signatories included the chief rabbis of the towns of Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Letzion, Carmiel, Gadera, Afula, Nahariya, Herzliya, Nahariya and Pardes Hannah, and others. In defending his support for the ruling, Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, head of the Ashdod Yeshiva (religious school), stated, “Racism originated in the Torah… The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel.”

Eliyahu had previously told an interviewer: “You can say the word “racist” 20 times… It doesn’t have an effect on me. By the way, Jewish religious law prohibits the selling of apartments to Arabs and the renting of apartments to Arabs.”
In December 2010, Haaretz newspaper reported on a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah (PSR) that found 44% of Jewish Israelis supported the rabbis’ call for Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews, while 48% opposed it.

  • In late December 2010, Eliyahu helped to organize an open letter from the wives of some 30 rabbis, including influential rabbis in Israel’s religious nationalist movement, urging Jewish women not to date, socialize or work with non-Jews or else they would be cut off from their “holy race.” The letter read in part:

“For your sake, for the sake of future generations, and so you don’t undergo horrible suffering, we turn to you with a request, a plea, a prayer. Don’t date non-Jews, don’t work at places that non-Jews frequent, and don’t do national service with non-Jews.”

Signatories included Nitzchia Yosef, the daughter-in-law of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, and Esther Lior, the wife of Rabbi Dov Lior, the influential chief rabbi of settlements in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. (See below for more on Yosef and Lior.)


Spiritual leader of the Shas party, which was a part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government from 2009-2012

  • In May 2012, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the influential spiritual leader of the Shas party, which was then part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, said that doctors who were religious Jews shouldn’t treat non-Jews on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, even if the patient’s life was in danger, stating: “If a gentile were to get injured in a car accident during Sabbath, and he is brought to the hospital – Israel must not treat him.” He concluded “the Torah forbids to violate the Sabbath for gentiles.”
  • In September 2010, Yosef declared that non-Jews were created to “serve” Jews, stating:

“Goyim [non- Jews] 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… With gentiles, it will be like any person: They need to die, but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant. That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

  • In August 2010, on the eve of peace talks in Washington, Yosef delivered a sermon describing Palestinians as “evil, bitter enemies” and calling on god to make them “perish from this world” by striking them with a plague.
  • In 2005, Yosef said that New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina because US President George W. Bush had supported Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal of settlers from Gaza, stating, “He [Bush] perpetrated the expulsion. Now everyone is mad at him… this is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif.” He added: “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.”


Chief rabbi of settlements in Hebron and Kiryat Arba, head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], leading figure in the religious Zionist movement

  • In September 2012, Lior, one of the most influential figures in the religious Zionist movement, was one of several rabbis and politicians who led an event to honor an Israeli settler convicted of tying up and beating a Palestinian teenager, stripping him naked, and then dumping him on the side of the road. A few months previous, the same settler and another assailant attacked the same teen and killed a baby goat belonging to him. Lior claimed that the settler was framed, adding that Israeli courts are “driven by racist hatred of Jews.”
  • In February 2012, Lior, called President Barack Obama a “kushi,” a derogatory term for individuals of African descent, and compared him to Haman, an enemy of the Jewish people described in the Biblical Book of Esther. He also called for increased settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, in order to “eradicate the jungle.”
  • In December 2007, Lior stated: “We must cleanse the country of Arabs and resettle them in the countries where they came from.”


Former chief rabbi of the Israeli military (2006-2010), current head of a yeshiva in the settlement of Itamar

  • In October 2011, Rontzki said that Palestinians suspected of carrying out acts of violence against Israelis should be killed “in their beds” instead of being arrested, stating: “they should just be shot, exterminated. They were terrorists that murdered people and should be killed in their beds.”
  • In November 2009, the then-chief military rabbi told students in a pre-army yeshiva program that soldiers who “show mercy” toward the enemy in wartime will be “damned,” stating: “In times of war, whoever doesn’t fight with all his heart and soul is damned – if he keeps his sword from bloodshed, if he shows mercy toward his enemy when no mercy should be shown.”
  • In January 2009, Israeli and international media reported that the Israeli army rabbinate under Rontzki’s direction had been distributing leaflets to soldiers containing extremely inflammatory and racist content. One pamphlet stated: “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers.” Another leaflet informed soldiers that cruelty is sometimes a “good attribute” and that all Palestinians were their enemy. Another asked: “Is it possible to compare today’s Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?” It concluded: “A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land … They invaded the Land of Israel, a land that did not belong to them and claimed political ownership over our country … Today the problem is the same.” The soldiers in question were preparing to take part in Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, which killed approximately 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. A UN fact-finding mission under internationally renowned Justice Richard Goldstone found that Israel and Hamas both committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity during Cast Lead. Human rights groups like Amnesty Internationaland Human Rights Watch came to the same conclusion.

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