The Incitement Double Standard: Ovadia Yosef vs PA Leadership

On Saturday (Aug. 28), a sermon by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, in which he dubbed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas “evil” and called on God to strike “these Ishmaelites and Palestinians with a plague, these evil haters of Israel,” sparked intensive media coverage. Major media outlets such as the New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Boston Globe, Daily Telegraph and Irish Times all covered the incident, some dedicating entire stories to it.

In contrast, a week and a half earlier, on Wednesday Aug. 18, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad honored one of the planners of the Sept. 5, 1972 Munich Massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered, and not one of these media outlets had a word to say.

There couldn’t be a starker illustration of the media’s double standard when it comes to reporting Israeli versus Palestinian incitement. Of course, the cases are not completely parallel — Yosef does not hold any position in the Israeli government (although the party that he founded is in the coalition), and the Israeli Prime Minister rejected the cleric’s remarks. In contrast, Abbas and Fayyad, frequently labeled “moderate” by the mainstream media outlets, are the top leaders of the Palestinian Authority.

Close Up on Yosef

Here is a sampling of the media’s intense coverage of Yosef’s remarks.

AFP reported (“Slim hopes ahead of new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks,” Aug. 30):

As if to underscore the difficulties, the head of one of Netanyahu’s key coalition allies sparked anger on Sunday for damning Abbas and Israel’s enemies, calling on God to “strike them down.”

“May all the nasty people who hate Israel, like Abu Mazen, vanish from our world,” ultra-Orthodox Shas party head Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in a sermon.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called it “an incitement to genocide,” and asked: “Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?”

Netanyahu’s office said Yosef’s remarks did not reflect the premier’s or his government’s views.

Similarly, the Associated Press reported today (“Abbas: No Peace Talks With Settlement Building,” Mohammed Daraghmeh, Aug. 30):

Hawkish members of his coalition government oppose any concessions to the Palestinians, and one unleashed a harsh tirade against the Palestinians Sunday.

The spiritual leader of one of the hard-line parties in Netanyahu’s coalition caused a stir by saying in his weekly Sabbath sermon that the Palestinians and Abbas should “perish from the world.” Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a founder of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, also described Palestinians as “evil, bitter enemies of Israel. “

Israel is a respected religious scholar among Jews of Middle Eastern descent, but is also known for vitriolic comments about Arabs, secular Jews, liberals, women and gays. Shas runs private schools that educate tens of thousands of Israeli children.

The Abbas government responded angrily, demanding in a statement that the Israeli government put a stop to what it described as a “culture of hatred in Israel toward Palestinians.”

The Israeli premier’s office rejected Yosef’s remarks, saying they “do not reflect the attitude of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the position of the Israeli government.” The office said in a statement that Netanyahu is going to the talks with a goal of “reaching an agreement with the Palestinians that will put an end to the conflict.”

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also condemned the rabbi’s comments, saying in a statement that they are “not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”

Reuters dedicated an entire 13-paragraph article to Yosef’s statements including details about the rabbi’s past anti-Arab comments (which also garnered media attention):

The Iraqi-born cleric has made similar remarks before, most notably in 2001, during a Palestinian uprising, when he called for Arabs’ annihilation and said it was forbidden to be merciful to them.

He later said he was referring only to “terrorists” who attacked Israelis. (“Abbas, Palestinians should die: Israeli rabbi,” Aug. 29)

The New York Times, which has repeatedly ignored anti-Israeli incitement, found space to report on Yosef’s bigoted remarks:

Israel was in an uproar on Sunday over a refusal by Israeli theater artists to perform in West Bank Jewish settlements, and Palestinians were outraged by a virulently anti-Palestinian sermon by a Jerusalem rabbi, further fueling the atmosphere days before the expected resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington.

The artists’ protest awakened internal debate in Israel over the legitimacy of the Jewish settlements, while the Palestinian government condemned the sermon delivered by the influential rabbi on Saturday in which he described the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, as “evil” and called on God to strike “these Ishmaelites and Palestinians with a plague; these evil haters of Israel.”

Excerpts of the sermon were broadcast on Israel Radio on Sunday.

The Iraqi-born rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, 89, is the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition. A widely respected religious authority, Rabbi Yosef also is known for his incendiary pronouncements against Arabs and homosexuals, among others.

Referring to Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, by his popular name, the rabbi said that “Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this earth.”

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said in a statement that the rabbi was “literally calling for a genocide against Palestinians” and “for the assassination of President Abbas.”

Mr. Netanyahu stopped short of condemning the rabbi’s remarks, but his office said in a statement that they “do not reflect Netanyahu’s views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government.”

The statement continued, “Israel plans to take part in peace negotiations out of a desire to advance toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians that will end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations between the two peoples.”

Eli Yishai, the interior minister and the political leader of Shas, had no comment, according to his media adviser, Roei Lachmanovich. (“Actors’ Protest and Rabbi’s Sermon Stoke Tensions in Israel Ahead of Peace Talks,” Aug. 29)

The Times article was also picked up by the Boston Globe.

Across the ocean, the Irish Times ran a full story on Yosef’s remarks (“Leader of orthodox Israeli party calls for death of Abbas,” Aug. 30), which was reproduced in the Daily Telegraph (London).

A Pass for Abbas and Fayad

Abbas shown at Al-Hindi’s funeral  (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 19, courtesy of PMW)

News coverage of Yosef’s hateful remarks is legitimate, but the media’s failure to cover incitement on the part of Palestinian leaders is not. While Yosef’s remarks garnered hundreds if not thousands of words in the mainstream Western press, Abbas and Fayyad’s participation in a funeral glorifying Amin Al-Hindi, a mastermind of the Munich massacre, merited not a single mention. As documented by Palestinian Media Watch, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, reported that Abbas and Fayad attended the Aug. 18 funeral, where “a red carpart was laid out for the arrival of the body, and the military band played the fond farewell melody.” An Aug. 20 article in the government-controlled Al Hayat eulogized Al-Hindi as “one of the stars who sparkled at one of the stormiest points on the international level — the operation that was carried out at the sports stadium in Munich, Germany, in 1972. That was just one of many shining stations.”

An Aug. 19 Al-Hayat article reported:

The Palestinian leadership, along with President Mahmoud Abbas, parted yesterday from the body of the Fatah leader and fighter patriot Amin Al-Hindi. This was at an imposing official military funeral that was held at the [PA] headquarters to bid farewell to the Shahid (Martyr)…

Present at the headquarters for the farewell ceremony and for the official military funeral, along with the President [Abbas], were Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad; Secretary General of the Presidential office, Al-Tayeb Abd Al-Rahim; members of the PLO Executive Council and of the Fatah Central Committee; several ministers, commanders of security forces, senior civic and military personnel, as well as relatives of the deceased.

The body of Al-Hindi, which was wrapped in shrouds, arrived draped with the Palestinian flag and was borne on the shoulders of his [metaphorical] sons – officers of the Guard of Honor at the presidential headquarters. A red carpet was laid out for the arrival of the body, and the military band played the final farewell melody. A squad from the Guard of Honor fired 21 shots. President Abbas and the participants at the funeral cast a final parting look at the body, and laid wreaths. Afterwards, the President and those present read the opening sura [of the Quran] for the elevation of his pure soul.

Can you imagine if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu attended a memorial event glorifying the murderer Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 slaughtered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron? The prime minister’s message of support for the Israeli killer would certainly make headlines across the world. Similarly, when Palestinian leaders do in fact attend a funeral glorifying one of the Palestinians’ countless Goldstein equivalents, journalists should take note. The media’s inexcusable double standard in the Yosef versus Abbas/Fayyad affair does not bode well for the upcoming coverage of the tricky talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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