C’mon Shas, police yourselves
For those of you who don’t know, the Orthodox Israeli political party Shas, which, given the low threshold of votes needed to win seats in the Knesset, is a power broker in that country’s politics, and a partner in the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
That means Shas has an obligation to govern responsibly, which, should mean it either buys into the policies of the Netanyahu government or, if its collective conscience won’t permit it to do so, resign and join the opposition.
What Shas should not be doing is standing idly by while its so-called spiritual leader makes embarrassing public statements, calling for the “demise” of the president of the Palestinian Authority, and indeed, the entire Palestinian people.
We’re referring to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel. Specifically, during his weekly sermon at a Jerusalem synagogue, he said this:
“Abu Mazen (the colloquial name for P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas) and all these evil people should perish from this world. … God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
Those words drew rebukes from around the world, including from the Obama administration, and rightly so.
The issue here is not whether Abbas and his people are good or bad, or if the Israeli government is right or wrong. This is about a political party governing in a responsible manner. Shas has joined the government. By not publicly distancing itself from Yosef — and it did not — or re-evaluating Yosef’s status as the party’s spiritual leader — and it has not — this member of the governing coalition is tacitly supporting the remarks of Yosef while undermining the government it has agreed to work with.
That’s duplicitous politics of the worst kind.
And for Shas to remain silent on this issue on the eve of the resumption of direct peace talks, regardless of what you think of those talks, is an insurgent-style challenge to the prime minister himself — one he should not tolerate.
But more important, Yosef’s remarks embarrass Jews the world over. We have a long history as victims of genocide, and we don’t wish it on anyone — not even our adversaries. We certainly don’t pray for God to do it for us.
If Shas supports what Yosef says, then it has an alternative. It should resign from the government, which could bring the coalition down and force new elections.
But a Shas defection could also motivate Netanyahu to make a deal with Kadima and sideline all the fringe parties — including the Yisrael Beiteinu, the extreme right-wing party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been guilty of his own brand of insurgent diplomacy.
At the same time, though, this latest Yosef episode — yes there have been others — should renew efforts to raise the minimum vote threshold needed for representation in the Knesset. That way, the larger parties with a genuine interest in governing, won’t be forced to make deals with niche parties harboring their own agendas.