Update: Now we’ve heard from the Conservative movement. In a statement, the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Assembly and eight other movement groups said this: "As leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement, we deplore these recent comments of Former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that, like many of his comments over the years, constitute irresponsible incitement to violence. We view with hope the prospects for peace and security for Israel and her neighbors and recognize that such irresponsible and inciting comments harm these prospects at a crucial time."
Yesterday I asked – with considerable skepticism – which Jewish group would be first to publicly and strongly condemn the anti-Palestinian invective of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel’s Shas party and a serial offender when it comes to statements that can be seen as incitement.
My skepticism was somewhat misplaced; by this morning, a handful of important groups had strongly condemned his comments, and it wasn’t just the bleeding heart faction of the Jewish community.
Today leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations had this to say: “We are disturbed by the reported comments of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. We share the concern of the government of Israel, which disassociated itself from, and expressed deep dismay at the remarks. Our tradition teaches that we must be careful with our words. This is particularly true for leaders, all the more so at this sensitive time when direct negotiations are being launched.”
The Conference could have taken the politically easy route and added something about Palestinian incitement being much more prevalant, which would have been true – but it would also have diminished the power of the statement, reducing it to just one more “who’s the worst offender” Middle East argument.
As I reported in updates yesterday, the Reform movement and J Street both responded fairly quickly with strong statements.
ADL leader Abe Foxman, who continues to take hits for his involvement in the New York Islamic Center controversy, said “We are outraged by the offensive and incendiary comments made by Rav Ovadia Yosef. Particularly on the eve of renewed peace talks, and on the eve of the Jewish New Year, one would have hoped that Rav Yosef could have inspired his students and followers with a message of hope, humility, repentance and forgiveness.”
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called Yosef’s comments “morally reprehensible. We utterly reject such sentiments as anathema to Jewish values and the beliefs of the Jewish people. Sadly, this is far from the first time that Rabbi Yosef has engaged in the most outrageous types of hate speech.”
And J Street’s Hadar Susskind said “Just as we have consistently called for an need to end incitement on the Palestinian side, so too we call for Israeli leaders and public figures to be held to those same rightly high standards."
As I said yesterday, it’s not easy for religious leaders to condemn the extremism of another member of their faith community. So these statements strike me as important.
So is a realization that it’s hard for Muslim leaders to condemn their own extremists. It seems to me the flurry of Jewish statements on Yosef since yesterday, which I’m sure weren’t easy for some of the leaders who made them, should challenge the Muslim leaders to overcome their understandable reluctance and criticize the extremists in their own community.