Just days after starting his new role as the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau has become the center of a racism scandal.
The rabbi was accused of racism for allegedly using the Hebrew word “kushi” (Kushite), a reference to dark-skinned people or people of African origin. While the word was originally a neutral or even positive term, in recent decades it has become a pejorative term.
Rabbi Lau used the word while urging yeshiva students not to watch soccer or basketball games - a speech that could be controversial in itself, as the hareidi-religious tendency to take a negative view of sports is largely not shared by other Israelis.
During his alleged address to the young students, which was made public by the hareidi Kav Hasifot phone line, Rabbi Lau joked, “What does it matter if the Kushites paid by Tel Aviv beat the Kushites paid by Greece?”
His comments angered MK Penina Tamanu-Shata of Yesh Atid, who is of Ethiopian Jewish origin.
“[Naftali] Bennett was right. The Rabbinate needs to change. It’s outrageous that a rabbi in such an exalted position has expressed himself in such a racist manner,” she declared.
“If the Rabbinate looks like this for the next few years – oy,” she continued.
“Maybe when an Ethiopian Jewish couple comes to get married, the rabbi will say, who cares if Jewish kushis get married?” she warned.
“It’s very serious when a person who sees himself as worthy of serving as Chief Rabbi of Israel chooses to express himself in such a racist matter,” she concluded.
The scandal involving Rabbi Lau comes on the heels of reports that Ethiopian female immigrants to Israel were given birth control shots without their knowledge.