The chutzpa of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
The notion that Jews rule the world has been one of the most detrimental social concoctions the Jewish people have (barely) endured in past millennia. This week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef seemed determined to prove it correct. Following last week’s marathon talks between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York, Netanyahu returned to Israel in order to present whatever proposal was formulated in the golden apple.
Since Netanyahu’s return, unconfirmed reports of the New York deal’s details have been making their way through the Israeli media. The basic understanding is that in exchange for an additional 90 days of an already-expired and failed settlement freeze, Israel will receive 20 state-of-the-art fighter jets, free of charge; the US will veto any UN resolutions resembling a declaration of Palestinian declaration of statehood; Israel will be permitted to build in East Jerusalem; and the US will not request another settlement freeze. Seem a little lopsided?
So the distinguished prime minister comes back, assembles his cabinet (which needs to approve such a deal), and quickly finds out that the far-right coalition he built – in a parliamentary mess comparable only to Bush’s 2000 electoral loss/election victory – does not support the deal he just hammered out in New York.
It turns out that half of the ministers from his own party won’t support the deal and his largest coalition partner (Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s party) won’t even entertain the idea, leaving deal’s fate in one party’s hands. (I would have said, “the fate of peace,” but optimism doesn’t seem to be the theme today)
Enter Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader (read: decider) of Shas.
The same day that Netanyahu presented the deal to his cabinet, Yosef’s political mouthpiece, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, laid out his own demands, the most entertaining of which was: “A letter from the president of the United States that construction will take place in [East] Jerusalem immediately, and that after 90 days, it will be possible to build [settlements] everywhere, without restrictions.”
Did I mention that in exchange for a new pen pal on Pennsylvania Avenue, Ovadia still won’t instruct his party to vote in favor of the deal? (They will consider abstaining.)
Is the all-powerful rabbi who just last month declared that, “Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us,” really demanding that the leader of the free world personally guarantee the failure of his pet project, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
This would actually be a funny story if the rest of the government hadn’t jumped on board with Yosef. Now, even Netanyahu is waiting for this magical letter – which anyway, would need congressional approval in order to be binding.
(To be fair to Rabbi Yosef, he has previously ruled, “that it is permissible to relinquish territories of the Land of Israel…[according to the principle of] pikuach nefesh,” if it results in lives being saved. He used this logic to support Israel’s peace deal with Egypt and Rabin’s Oslo process. The Rabbi has also made some fairly progressive – for Orthodox standards – rulings allowing wives of missing soldiers to remarry, among other things.)