Chief Rabbi Lau says racist remarks were a ‘joke’

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rabbi David Lau, the newly elected chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, said his widely condemned racist comment was a “joke.”

Lau told haredi Orthodox students at a yeshiva in Modiin Illit last week to stop hanging out at convenience stores to watch basketball on television.

“Why do you care about whether the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Greece?” he said.  Kushim is a derogatory Israeli slang term for blacks.

The remarks were first reported by a phone news service for haredim, Hakol Haharedi, and subsequently picked up by major Israeli newspapers.

In an interview Thursday on Israel Radio, Lau responded to the massive criticism of his remarks in Israel and around the world. He said Israelis “excel at taking a humorous remark and turning it into a headline.”

“The one and only headline is – ‘you are yeshiva students so sit and study Torah,’” he said.

Lau, who was elected earlier this month as Ashkenazi chief rabbi, canceled a planned vacation abroad after the remarks were published.