by Dr. Lawrence Davidson
Back in October of 2005 the Western media, starting with the New York Times, mistranslated a speech by Amadinejad. The Iranian President had called for regime change in Israel, a practice American Presidents indulge in repeatedly in terms of countries like Cuba, Sudan, and Iran itself. In this case, Amadinejad’s statement that “the occupying regime over Jerusalem” will one day “vanish from the pages of time” somehow became a desire that Israel should be “wiped off the the map.” Almost immediately all hell broke loose in the United States as every devout Zionist and their supporters in and out of the government decided that Iran (allegedly seeking nuclear weapons) had now revealed itself as an “existential threat” to Israel. It was quickly pointed out that the NYT had made a mistake, that in any case Iran did not have the power to actually “wipe Israel off the map,” that the Iranian nuclear program was, according to all objective intelligence reports, not aiming to produce such weapons, etc. but it made no difference at all. To this day, not only the Zionists and their supporters in Congress, but a good many American citizens (to say nothing of the Israeli public) believe that Iran wants to commit genocide against Israel.
Now let us fast forward to August 29, 2010. On that day the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on a speech made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader the Israeli political party, Shas. Shas is a major political movement in Israel. It represents the religiously observant Sephardi Jewish population of that country. It has eleven seats in the Knesset, is a key part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition government, and one of its members (Eli Yishai) is the current Minister of Internal Affairs. He is the one leading the effort to ethnically cleanse in East Jerusalem. Shas’ power means Rabbi Yosef is an influential political player in today’s Israel. That is why Haaretz paid attention to his speech of the 29th. So, what did he say?
Rabbi Yosef said that the Palestinians and their leaders are “evil and damnable.” That “God should strike them with a plague.” And just in case God doesn’t get them all, Israel “must send missiles to them and annihilate them.” He finished up with “Abu Mazen (aka Mahmoud Abbas) and all these evil people should perish from this world.” One is tempted to ask if the spiritual leader of Shas was trying to mimic the New York Times’ distorted image of Amadinejad?
The U.S. State Department was quick to condemn Yosef’s “inflammatory” remarks and note that they “hurt the cause of peace.” Coming just days before Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are to begin face to face “peace talks” that is probably Yosef’s intent. Rather than see Israel achieve a compromise peace, the Rabbi would prefer to see the Palestinians “ wiped off the map,” so to speak. It is no surprise then that Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestine Authority, concluded that Rabbi Yosef’s speech was “incitement to genocide.”
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office released a statement (see State Department link above) emphasizing that Yosef’s remarks, as influential as they must be on the Shas party and its minister in the cabinet, “do not reflect Netanyahu’s views, nor the stance of the Israeli government.” Nonetheless, it is interesting that Haaretz felt it necessary to add that Netanyahu’s comments “stopped short of a condemnation.” Back here in the U.S. The Jewish Week noted that the American Jewish community’s response had been rather anemic. J Street ‘s Hadar Susskind said that Israeli leaders as well as Palestinian leaders should refrain from incitement, and Abe Foxman (who on this side of the water is an inciter par excellence) released a statement saying that the ADL was “outraged” by Yosef’s remarks, coming as they do “on the eve of the Jewish New Year.” From all those in Congress who regularly label Amadinejad as a racist and a madman, there has been silence.
It appears that we live in a world permeated with double standards. Indeed, it may very well be that we are born with a genetic predisposition for them. Even while claiming adherence to “universal” sets of ethical teaching (such as the Ten Commandments), we regularly accept and/or excuse behavior by blood relatives that we would condemn when practiced by those to whom we are unrelated. We extend this to our ‘cultural relatives’ by holding one set of standards for our community and another set for those that are alien. What is terrorism? It is something the ‘other’ does, not us. Where is mass murder committed? It is in Rwanda, in Darfur, in Bosnia, but not in Iraq or Vietnam or Nicaragua. Who are the torturers? Not us. President Bush told us that waterboarding does not count, and those that wrote the memos saying “intensive interrogation” was legal while international law was obsolete, now teach at our most prestigious universities. We are good. They are bad. We deserve to live. They deserve to die. This practice of double standards is old and very persistent.
Now Rabbi Ovadia Yosef shows us that Israeli Jews, and Zionists in general, are just ordinary hypocrites like the rest of us. Has the “light unto the nations” gone out? Well not completely. There is still a tiny little flame that is kept alight by the Jewish minority who understands that Zionism has been very bad for the Jews and Jewish values. There have always been such ethical Jews around, but they have been shouted down by the majority who insist that immorality somehow turns moral when practiced by Israel. But now, thanks to the spiritual icon of Shas, the minority has been proven right. As a consequence, it is now clear–if the world is looking for a madman and a racist with influence over people who possess nuclear weapons, Iran’s Amadinejad (who has no such weapons) cannot logically be high on the list. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, however, seems a most suitable candidate.
Department of History
West Chester University
West Chester, Pa 19383
Dr. Lawrence Davidson has done extensive research and published in the areas of American perceptions of the Middle East, and Islamic Fundamentalism. His two latest publications are Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 1998) and America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001). He has published thirteen articles on various aspects of American perceptions of the Middle East. Dr. Davidson holds a BA from Rutgers, an MA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Alberta.