Double standards exist even on hate in Israel

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Double standards exist even on hate in Israel


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the founder of the rightwing Israeli religious Party Shas, died this past week. More than 800,000 Israelis, mostly religious, gathered to commemorate his life work in occupied Jerusalem. He was applauded by nearly every major Israeli political leader and organization, secular as well as religious, and by pro-Israel leaders and groups in the United States.

While I never celebrate anyone’s death, nor wish harm to anyone including my enemies, the issue of Rabbi Yosef raises an important question about the hypocrisy of Israeli media and of Israelis and their double standards in judging others differently from how they judge themselves.

Rabbi Yosef frequently called Arabs “vipers” and “evil.” He denounced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has supported peace based on compromise with Israel, asking God to strike “these Ishmaelites and Palestinians with a plague, these evil haters of Israel.”

Yet, when an Arab makes such terrible comments, they are punished and judged harshly. But when Israelis say the same and worse, they are honored.
Despite words of peace and compromise from Arabs, many Israelis and especially the biased, one-sided Israeli media, focus almost exclusively on negative Arab rhetoric. They constantly accuse the Arab media of hate speech and hate writing.

It doesn’t matter if it is purely humanitarian and not intended to be political, such as the case of Octavia Nasr, who was once the highest profiled American Arab in journalism. In 2010, Nasr was fired from her job at CNN. The reason was that she had sent out a tweet (on Twitter) expressing condolences on the passing of Imam Sayed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of the founders of Hezbollah. Fadlallah was considered a moderate who fought for the rights of women and even expressed opposition to the use of violence.

Her Twitter message read: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Within days, Nasr was attacked by nearly everyone. How dare she express words of respect for a member of Hezbollah? None of her critics cared that Sayed Fadlallah had died.

Among the loudest critics was the politically pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which described Nasr’s comments in the harshest terms as a “clear impropriety of a journalist to express such a partisan viewpoint about a vocal supporter of terrorism.”

This is all quite in contrast to how the ADL, many Israelis, and the Israeli media responded to Rabbi Yosef’s death. Few made reference to the Rabbi’s racist, hateful rhetoric against Arabs. When they did, the hate rhetoric was downplayed, as if it wasn’t important. Or it was excused as the result of his age.

The ADL, which claims to combat hate and anti-Semitism, called Rabbi Yosef a “towering rabbinic figure who has left a lasting legacy for Sephardic Jews in Israel and for Jews all around the world” in a lengthy statement of praise.

At the end, they minimized the Rabbi’s history of vicious anti-Arab hatred, saying, “Rabbi Yosef was not without controversy and it is no secret that we disagreed with some of his statements in the past which we considered intemperate and biased.”

No secret? I don’t ever recall them issuing a press release denouncing him. They certainly didn’t demand that he resign as the leader of Shas. The ADL’s reaction was mimicked by many in Israel, with even less mention of his racist rhetoric.

What is the difference in attitudes between Nasr’s expression of condolences and the ADL’s expression of condolences? It’s okay to praise a hater, as long as that hater is someone you like?

Few Israeli officials or media made much of the Rabbi’s hateful history.

The story on his death in the Jerusalem Post never mentioned his past, and they are among the more progressive in Israel’s mainstream media, far better than the Hebrew language media, which for the most part ignored his hateful words.

As I said, I do not celebrate anyone’s death. I do not wish violence on anyone. I oppose violence. All violence. I do put much blame on the extremists in Palestine and Israel, though Israel has a higher burden for its failure because it has all the power and the Arabs are weak.

Principle is important. How you treat one person is how you should treat others. Principle is not based on politics or on your personal views. It is based on consistency. If you are Israeli and condemn the killing of Israelis by Palestinians, you should also condemn the killing of Palestinians by Israelis. And vice versa, too. That doesn’t happen often enough.

And if you condemn Octavia Nasr for her condolence for Sayed Fadlallah, you should also condemn those who applaud Rabbi Yosef. I could even bring in the case of award winning American Arab journalist Helen Thomas who was led into a controversy when her words were twisted into something they were not. Again, the Israelis and American Jewish community jumped all over her, and she was fired from her job after having covered nearly every American president with honor as the first woman in the White House Press Corp beginning with John F. Kennedy.

There are too many examples of Arabs punished, while similar actions by Israelis and American Jews are glossed over. There is no genuine peace today between Israel and its Arab neighbors because the Israelis and the Israeli media live by a double standard of arrogance and power advantage.

They don’t feel the need to be principled when it comes to Arabs and Palestinians. And they don’t feel the need to be principled about hatred either.

– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania

Categories: Middle East Topics

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5 replies

  1. Ray, when I read criticisms of the quotes of people, I always try to go to the source. People like Rabbi Yosef give hundreds of sermons and write many books on arcane topics of Jewish law. It is not at all surprising to find quotes that, out of context, sound racial and intolerant. I am making a guess now. How many complete sermons of the Rabbi have you heard or read. I am guessing zero. How many books, or even single chapters of a book? I am again guessing zero. How can you make such damning remarks about a man who is held in high esteem by millions, without any direct information? Unfortunately we cannot rely on our press. For example, I found this apology by the Rabbi that I translated into english.,7340,L-1226848,00.html

    “as I have emphasized, these words were directed at terrorists, murderers dastardly shed innocent blood in Israel, men, women and children. We know what was done ​​during the past year and earlier, murders and attacks by the assassins who came from the PA, overthrew and destroyed hundreds of victims families. These particularly serious criminals and those who sent them wrap themselves in the guise of ‘martyrs’. This is an abomination, abomination and heresy, no desecration of heaven is greater than that. I want to believe that a Muslim leader true religious share this position. I did and I do make a clear distinction between the terrorists and Arabs with peaceful and good neighborly relations with Israel, with whom I feel respect and honor. whether one of them understood the words incorrectly and hurt, I regret that very much.”

  2. Marc, I expect that from Israelis and American Jews who have a double standard when it comes to hate and hatred. They find ways to excuse everything, and NEVER blame themselves or their people for the ugliness that is out there. Rabbi Yosef was an ugly hateful person. His GENERAL descriptions of Arabs and Palestinians and Muslims were so widespread that it would be like me trying to defend Hitler to say, “Hey, have you read all of Hitler’s speeches. All he did was talk about the glory of a new Germany and he denounced the terrorists and murderers who were ….” Unacceptable but not unpredictable. One day when Jews recognize the hatred that exists in their own hearts, covered in apologies and political blindness, then the hate they see around them will disappear.

    • Ray, You will find that Israelis and American Jews of all political and religious views, aside from a reviled extremist fringe, will condemn the hatred and violence of Baruch Goldstein, who perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron. Similarly you will find that the majority of Jews in all groups supported the banning of the Kach party of Meir Kahane for inciting racism. Kach has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, Canada, the European Union and the United States. “Price tag” groups among the setters are similarly criticised and renounced. No, we do not excuse everything.

      Ovadia Yosef is another issue. I take issue with people who would condemn his as a racist or a hate monger on the basis of a few comments they read in the newspaper that someone wrote that someone told them someone heard. Rabbi Yosef has given hundreds, if not thousands of sermons. He has written books, including the 24 volume set Yalkut Yosef explaining Jewish law in thousands of pages. I am happy to criticize and renounce racism when I see it, but I see many many citations of the same 5 or ten out of context comments with no links to original transcripts or sources. Show me the sermon, the chapter, the conversation, and it is likely that you will hear no apology from me for the Rabbi. I am suspicious that the context may show that he was only denouncing hateful extremists not Arabs or Palestiniaqns in general.

  3. I disagree with You Marc. His words are his words. I understand the issue of taking words out of context, which is done to many people to intentionally demonize them. You could make the same argument about the late Yasir Arafat, who was vilified by Israelis and American Jews for words that were twisted and distorted, too. If you want to make a point to defend the principle, don’t do it in a selfish way by fighting for Rabbi Ovadia. Do it across the board and fight for all victims of being demonized, otherwise your protests sound political and only about someone you care about rather than about the issue of twisting and distorting words. My column addresses that more than it does Rabbi Yoseff. To me the issue is the hypocrisy of bashing Arabs for saying things and ignoring the hatred that is equal or even worse coming from the Israeli and Jewish community. While I disagree with your views here, I respect your opinion.


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