by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
A prominent Israeli rabbi whose party shares power in the Netanyahu government called for the extermination of Arabs in a recent sermon.
The 89-year-old Ovadia Yosef urged God to strike “these Ishmaelites and Palestinians with a plague; these evil haters of Israel.” He then singled out the Palestinian leader of Fatah, exclaiming that “Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this earth.” Yosef is the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, an ultra-Orthodox right-wing outfit that governs in concert with other parties, including Likud.
In religious terminology, the Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael, who was Abraham’s elder son. As the rabbi doubtless knows, the Arabs are considered the descendants of the Ishmaelites in Islamic tradition.
In response to the genocidal exhortation, Netanyahu issued a mild non-rebuke; his office meekly offered that the rabbi’s ravings “do not reflect” the views of the prime minister or the government. The lukewarm criticism is not surprising, since Netanyahu may harbor genocidal views of his own.
In May, a Netanyahu advisor told the American-Israeli “journalist” Jeffrey Goldberg that Netanyahu is serious about striking Iran and considers the Islamic Republic the modern-day equivalent of Amalek.
For those unfamiliar with the Old Testament narrative, the Amalekites didn’t make out too well. God commands the Jews to utterly exterminate them—“Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
But returning to Rabbi Yosef: what elicited his angry declamation? It seems that the approaching peace talks are the culprit. Yosef and the rest of the far-right, who now loom large in Israeli society, loathe the prospect of “conceding” any lands they have stolen from the Palestinians, including the vast swath of Jewish-only settlements.
Of course, the far-right doesn’t see the land as stolen. For one thing, what’s commonly called the “far-right” in Israel-polite media parlance is best described as proto-fascist. This is, after all, the crowd that wants to impose state loyalty oaths on Israel’s Arab citizens—or even better, purge them from Israel altogether, lest the precious racial purity of the “democratic” Jewish state be further diluted. This is also the same crowd that seeks to erase history by making banning references to refer to Israel’s creation as “Al-Naqba”, or “The Disaster.” That’s the term used by Palestinians—and rightly so: even Israel’s own historians have conceded that their state was established through mass terror and ethnic cleansing.
But that doesn’t matter to Rabbi Yosef and friends. For them, the Palestinians are an annoyance, inserted by the irritating hand of history into lands that were ordained as Jewish by a divine real estate agent. Hence the favored Zionist slogan of “redeeming” the land.
What all this confirms is the hardening of hatred in Israeli society. Israelis have grown increasingly indifferent to the fate they mete out to their victims. The public did not question the obscene one-sided massacre in Gaza in 2008, (euphemistically called a “war”) in which Israel slaughtered 1,000 Palestinians, half of them women and children, putatively in “response” to unguided rocket fire that had all but ended.
Nor did the public quiver over the 2006 assault on Lebanon, during which Israel shattered Lebanese civilian infrastructure because Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers. All told, 1,000 Lebanese were killed and entire neighborhoods were flattened; compare that with the Israeli death toll of 43 civilians and 117 soldiers.
Even the recent flotilla massacre elicited scant moral outrage in Israel. The national media merely indulged in the tired victimhood narrative, peddling the awesome claim that the Israeli soldiers were defending themselves from the crew. Never mind that the soldiers boarded an aid vessel in international waters and shot people in the face; pirates with public relations, you see, are completely different from regular pirates.
And what public relations it is. As Netanyahu smugly observed to a settler audience some years ago, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.”
Yes, the “right direction”—as determined by Israeli fanatics who openly clamor for genocide and Israel-first lobbies who suppress criticism with hysterical charges of “anti-Semitism.”
And so long as Americans adhere to the fiction of Israeli victimhood, Netanyahu’s boasts will remain well-grounded.
— M. Junaid Levesque-Alam is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. His pieces have previously been published in Antiwar.com, AltMuslim.com, Colorlines, and The Nation.com. His own website is Crossing the Crescent.