Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s ill wishes towards Israel’s Palestinian Arab enemies, including the Palestinian Authority and its Holocaust–denier President, elicited disdain and disavowals from much of the leadership of Israel and the Jewish world.
Rabbi Ovadia’s “words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary and related groups said, “As leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement, we deplore these recent comments of Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef”.
ADL leader Abe Foxman said, “We are outraged by the offensive and incendiary comments made by Rav Ovadia Yosef.” And the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations added, “We are disturbed by the reported comments of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”
Why these entities have reacted this way is an interesting question.
This is even putting aside the paternalistic attitude of superiority so commonly used to justify ignoring the constant barrage of hate and incitement to genocide that emanates from many of Israel and Judaism’s enemies, both from Palestinian Arabs and others (most notoriously, Iran). And that vitriol is not voiced just by an individual — but is promulgated by their governments and their leaders, including Israel’s purported “partners for peace.”
But I was gratified to learn that I was not the only one who found the situation peculiar. In a letter published on the Jerusalem Post’s website, Chana Pinto accurately and articulately pointed out that in our prayers, Jews beseech G_d to defeat our enemies. For example, the Amida includes “Frustrate the hopes of those who malign us,” and “Let all your enemies be speedily destroyed.”
So is Rabbi Ovadia the only prominent Jew who reads the prayer book? Are the other Jewish leaders ignorant of our prayers in the prayer books they themselves publish? Are they akin to America’s legislators who now routinely pass multi-thousand page bills without reading them or knowing what is in them, much less understanding and reflecting on their implications?
Or is it that these other Jewish leaders are aware of their prayers, but Rabbi Ovadia is the only one who means it when he says them?
Perhaps if the Conservative leaders and their Reform counterparts (who, of course, also attacked Rabbi Ovadia) are so offended by their own prayers, they should change them. If Obama and his Democrats can ram their unwanted legislation down the throats of Americans, perhaps these Jewish leaders can change our prayers to be more consonant with their political and worldly sensibilities.
This controversy over the Rabbi’s remarks reminded me of a similar hypocrisy that occurred during George W. Bush’s presidency. Bush was well known to have been inspired by his faith and G_d during his time in office. And he was routinely and vitriolically mocked and criticized for doing so. Many Jews were among those so criticizing him.
But reference the “Prayer for Our Country,” a commonly recited Shabbat and Festival prayer in Conservative (and other) American congregations. The prayer includes the plea to G_d, “teach them (our ‘leader and advisors and all who exercise just and rightful authority’) insights of Your Torah so they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security…may forever abide in our midst”.
So these Jews who criticized Bush for being inspired by the Bible were criticizing him for doing precisely what they were praying for him to do! Just as today Rabbi Ovadia is pilloried for asking for just what we ask for in prayer. In both cases, of course, the prayers may have been so rote as to be less than sincere.
But the key answer to the question as to why so many people claimed offense at the Rabbi’s remarks is two-fold. One is that throughout the world, most people don’t want Israel to prevail in its struggle, and Israeli and Jewish leaders are sensitive to that sentiment.
Second, and more important, is the widespread and tragic refusal by Israelis, Jews, and westerners in general, to acknowledge that Israel is at war. Israel is at war with Palestinian Arabs, not just the Gazans. (Hey, if it’s not a state of war, why do we need peace talks? Does this enemy to whose defense the Israeli government and Jews throughout the world are rushing even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Last time I checked, no. And the enemy even says that it never will.)
Related to the refusal to acknowledge the state of war is, on the part of many, a lack of understanding of what war actually entails. That results in horror when the enemy is killed, injured, or even inconvenienced (e.g. think “checkpoints” and “blockade”).
As has been learned over the course of human history, Israel will never achieve the security of peace until it defeats its enemies. And as has also been true throughout human history, Israel will never be able to defeat its enemies by being nice to them, or even by loving them. Love bombs don’t work. Real ordnance is needed.
And if G_d provides help, all the better.