Rabbi Yosef Backs End to Freeze

Shas leader Rabbi Yosef tosses another jab at the PA and calls for a total thaw of the building freeze as Netanyahu flies to the US to meet Abbas.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 12:30

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Shas spiritual leader and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has tossed another jab at the Palestinian Authority and called for a total thaw of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria. He spoke hours before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to the United States for scheduled talks with the PA.

Often referred to as"Rabbi Ovadia," he told Shas Knesset leader Interior Minister Eli Yishai, “We need to build everywhere in Israel," silencing rumors he has agreed to a partial thaw in the building freeze. He previously has been considered to be agreeable to a partial freeze that would exclude high-density Orthodox communities such as Beitar Illit, in western Gush Etzion, and religious towns near Modi’in, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yosef’s statement was particularly significant because it came three days after he told followers that the Creator should "strike down” PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Prime Minister Netanyahu distanced himself from the remark, but PA leaders demanded a retraction, which they did not get.

Israel’s mainstream media often quote Rabbi Yosef’s remarks in his weekly sermon but take them out of context and without taking into account an overall message he delivers to his followers, many of whom are blue-collar workers. He is considered one of the generation's foremost religious scholars and an authority in Jewish law, but his comments often have irked anti-nationalist media and politicians.

The Shas party traditionally has been dovish on a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria and on freeing Arab terrorists in return for kidnapped Israelis, including kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Politically, the Shas party has alternately succeeded in being part of both Labor and Likud government coalitions. It has won around 12 Knesset mandates in recent elections, enough seats to make or break coalitions.