Worse, Worser, Worsest

Larry Levin

Remember the good old days when zealots like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were forever blaming practically anyone who wasn’t a conservative  fundamentalist Christian with causing death and destruction in the world? Gays caused AIDS; liberals incurred God’s wrath, and so on, and so forth.

Well, such high-drama theater is alive and kicking, noplace more prominently than in Israel and Gaza.

The race, ethnic and religious bashing coming from reactionary voices in Israel is, in a word, sickening.  And two of the most egregious examples arose over the last few days. We’ll reach back to August for the first, then come back to the present:

Bronze Medal: Israeli political party Shas’ spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef not only condemns Palestinian leadership, he says that “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.” Of course, this was hardly new for Ovadia, who in 2001 garnered all sorts of attention for calling for Arab annilhilation, stating, “It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”

Keep in mind that “Arabs’ would comprise not only those in the territories but over 2 million people living on the Israel side of the Green Line.

Silver Medal: The choice between this and Gold is awfully close, but we’re going to have go to our man Ovadia again, but this time he ties with one of his Palestinian nemeses. 

Last week Ovadia actually blamed Jews who aren’t sufficiently observant for the rash of terrible forest fires that ravaged Israel. His words:

“Fires only happen in a place where Shabbat is desecrated,” he quoted from the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat tractate in his weekly sermon. “Homes were ruined,” he continued, “entire neighborhoods wiped out, and it is not arbitrary. It is all divine providence.”

So if it’s ok for Ovadia to utter these, uh, shall we say, morally and rationally suspect words, then he must not mind that Gaza prime minister Ismael Haniyeh also laid the fires at God’s feet, though for a somewhat different reason, calling them a “strike from Allah… divine strikes for what [the Israelis] did. … Allah is punishing them from a place they did not expect it.”

So it’s not a matter of whether God caused the fires, but instead, how you interpret God’s intent? Hmmm…who decides what God intended in this instance? The People’s Court?

Gold Medal; But Ovacia and Haniyeh get low marks compared to a group of 40 rabbis who, not recognizing it was bad enough to actually think the following, had the unmitigated gall to speak it out loud. As reported by Haaretz:

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“Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis have signed on to a new religious ruling that would forbid the rental of homes to gentiles in a move particularly aimed against Arabs, Haaretz has learned.”

And the consequences for Jews who choose to rent to other human beings? Get ready to shudder:

“The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed,” the letter reads.

So basically, Jews — who we thought understood fully the shameful treatment of minorities based on either a heightened sense of social justice, or empathy rooted in our own past, or both — are advocating denial of housing to those who are not like themselves, and should be cast out as pariahs for violating this somehow religious instruction.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not a vision of Judaism or the world that particularly sits well with me. And for that, the collective rabbis win our Worsest Gold Medal this week!