Former Minister Aryeh Deri
Former Minister Aryeh DeriFlash 90

Former Israeli minister Aryeh Deri, formerly of the Shas party, explained on Sunday why Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the Shas party’s spiritual leader, had wished for the demise of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas several weeks ago.

Speaking to radio station Radio Kol Chai, Deri said that Rabbi Yosef’s remarks came as a result of his deep sorrow over the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria and in Jerusalem.

“The rabbi is very sensitive,” explained Deri. “He calms down his pain when he speaks harshly about a person.”

Deri explained that in this case, the Rabbi’s emotions came from “his terrible pain over the construction freeze, over the fact that no apartments are being built in Jerusalem and he sees the distress of the yeshiva students, as well as the public who has no place to live. It hurts him and he expressed this pain by saying what he said. The Rabbi has no interest in provoking the world’s nations. His whole way of life was using peaceful means to try to appease rather than provoke.

Rabbi Yosef sparked controversy after he made a public wish on his Rosh HaShana sermon that “our enemies and haters may come to an end, Abu Mazen and all these villains – may the Holy One, Blessed Be He, afflict them with the plague... these evil enemies of Israel.” 

Hilmi al-Ghoul, an adviser on national matters to Abbas, said in response that the statement “reflects the political consciousness in Israeli society and feeds the extremely belligerent approach that goads the settlers and soldiers to carry out the most heinous crimes against the helpless Palestinian people.”

Al-Ghoul added that Rabbi Ovadiah's “racist” pronouncements, delivered on the eve of resumption of direct talks between Israel and the PA in Washington, constitute a message to the world that Israel refuses to accept the “two state solution.” He called on “forces of peace in Israel and the world” to denounce Rabbi Ovadiah's “hate speech” against Israel and to force Israel to carry out its “diplomatic commitments.”

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also condemned Rabbi Yosef's comments and said that they are “not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace. As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.”