Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was targeted by at least one would-be assassin – and one attempt, in 2004, came perilously close to succeeding, his bodyguard Tzachi Berkovitch has revealed.
“This was at a time when the rabbi’s home was under threat, and many people were making an effort to keep him safe, not just those of us from the security company, but also the police and the Shin Bet,” he told Kol B’Rama radio.
“There was some attempt to kill the rabbi, and we managed to thwart it, not just us but also the Israel Police and others. I won’t go into details, but it was at the 88th minute,” he continued.
“It wasn’t something that was made public, and it’s not my place to discuss it. It was during the Second Intifada,” he said.
Berkovitch also spoke about his personal experience as someone who worked with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. “I discovered a man who gave everyone his attention. There was no person he did not pay attention to. He wanted to go to everything he was invited to, even if it was late at night,” he recalled.
“When the rabbi, of blessed memory, put his hand on you – something happened to you inside. Some Jewish spark was lit,” he added.
It was not clear if the assassination attempt Berkovitch was referring to was the attempt by three PFLP terrorists who were arrested in 2005, or perhaps the attempt made by Salah Hamouri, who was convicted in 2009 of attempting to assassinate the rabbi. Hamouri was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released in December 2011 as part of the Schalit deal after the French government intervened on his behalf.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef acceded to the French request that his would-be assassin be set free.
Several months after his release, Hamouri sued Reuters and Arutz Sheva over what he says was an interview that “besmirched his name and portrayed him in an unfavorable light.” Reuters had quoted Hamouri as telling its reporter, "I and my two friends were right to try and eliminate Rav Ovadia Yosef," and that the rabbi "deserves to die." Arutz Sheva was sued as well, for having quoted Reuters.
Hamouri’s case continues to make its way through the legal system. He is demanding 900,000 shekels, of which 300,000 is sought for the “damage to his reputation,” and another 500,000 for “mental pain and anguish.”
Attorney Tom Neumann, representing Arutz Sheva, has said, “This is an impertinent lawsuit by a terrorist who was convicted and freed, not after serving his full sentence but as part of the Schalit deal. Such a man does not enjoy a good reputation to begin with, certainly not in the Israeli public, and the claim that his 'good reputation' was damaged in the eyes of Arutz Sheva readers, assumes the absurd assumption that these readers previously thought he was a good and moral man. We will gladly have the court examine the supposed harm to his reputation.”