Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, came under fire Tuesday over comments he made last week regarding non-Jewish immigrants to Israel.
Early Tuesday morning, Yediot Aharonot published a segment of a video recording it obtained which showed Rabbi Yosef speaking at a rabbinical conference last week in Jerusalem.
In the video, Rabbi Yosef laments the mass immigration of non-Jews to Israel, accusing them of backing anti-religious political agendas.
“Hundreds or tens of thousands of non-Jews came to Israel because of the law defining who is a Jew,” said Rabbi Yosef, referring to Israel’s amended Law of Return, which permits not only Jews, but non-Jewish spouses, children, and grandchildren of Jews, along with their spouses, to immigrate to Israel.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 430,000 people living in Israel are neither Jewish nor Arab, with the vast majority being non-Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who immigrated to Israel after 1989 under the Law of Return.
“There are many, many non-Jews here, and some of them are Communists, enemies of the faith, haters of religion,” Rabbi Yosef continued.
“They aren’t Jewish at all, they are non-Jews. And they vote for parties which incite against haredim and against the faith.”
“They were brought here to Israel so as to serve as a counter-balance against the haredim. So that in elections there won’t be too many haredim. That’s why they total non-Jews were allowed to immigrate to Israel – absolute non-Jews. Unfortunately, we are seeing the result of the incitement they make.”
Rabbi Yosef noted that many of the non-Jewish immigrants identify as Christians and “go to church every Sunday.”
Later Tuesday morning, Rabbi Yosef came under fire for his remarks, with calls for his removal.
“Chief Rabbi Yosef needs to be fired this morning,” said Uri Keidar, CEO of the Israel Hofsheet: Be Free Israel organization, a self-described “socially pluralistic” movement looking to alter the religious status quo in Israel, including the promotion of civil marriage.
Keidar accused Rabbi Yosef of “racism” for his comments on non-Jewish immigration.
“Someone who forgets that his role is to serve the public, not to grade it, doesn’t need to be getting a salary from the State of Israel. More than a million who Israelis came here from the former Soviet Union don’t need to hear the racist opinions of Rabbi Yosef again and again. He is invited to be a racist in his house, but not as a public servant. The State of Israel will get by with only one Chief Rabbi,” continued Keidar.
Blue and White MK Yair Lapid also castigated Rabbi Yosef for his comments, and demanded he apologize.
“What happened to the Judaism that was welcoming, rather than peddling in insults? The Chief Rabbi needs to apologize for his embarrassing and serious comments.”
MK Avidgor Liberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which receives much of its support from immigrants from Eastern Europe, called for the Chief Rabbi’s suspension.
“Just a few days ago, the Chief Rabbi of Israel mocked the secular public, when he advised them to go to Ashdod and to eat pork. And today he’s inciting against immigrants from the former Soviet Union who work, serve in the army, do reserve duty, pay taxes, and contribute to the State.”
Liberman went on to accuse Rabbi Yosef of “racism and anti-Semitism for its own sake”.
“We demand his immediate suspension from his position, and we will work so that in the near future a rabbi from the Religious Zionist movement will be chosen, someone who knows how to be inclusive and not to divide.”