Christopher Hitchens writes:
Those of us who keep an eye on the parties of God are avid students of the weekly Sabbath sermons of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In these and other venues, usually broadcast, this elderly Sephardic ayatollah provides an action-packed diet that seldom disappoints. A few months ago, he favored his devout audience with a classic rant in which he called down curses on the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders, wishing that a plague would come and sweep them all away. Last month, he announced that the sole reason for the existence of gentiles was to perform menial services for Jews: After that, he opined, their usefulness was at an end. A huge hubbub led to his withdrawal of the first of these diatribes. (I would be interested to know if this was on partly theological grounds. After all, the local Palestinians may still have some labor to perform before the divine plan is through with them.) The second sermon, so far as I know, still stands without apology. Why on earth should anybody care about the ravings of this scrofulous medieval figure, who peppers his talk of non-Jews in Palestine with comparisons to snakes, monkeys, and other lesser creations, rather as Hamas and Hezbollah refer to the Jews? Well, one reason is that he is the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, an important member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Indeed, two key portfolios, of the Interior and of Construction and Housing, are held by Shas members named Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias.
Yishai recently delighted the Diaspora by saying that only those Jews who converted via the Orthodox route could carry “the Jewish gene.” Atias has expressed alarm about the tendency of Israeli Arab citizens to try to live where they please—or “spread,” as he phrases it—and has advocated a policy of segregation in housing within Israel proper. He also advocates the segregation by neighborhood of secular from Orthodox Jews, adding that he does not wish his own children to mix with their nonreligious peers. It is Yishai’s ministry that is famous for making announcements about new “housing” developments outside Israel itself and in legally disputed territory. Very often, Netanyahu himself has claimed to be taken by surprise at these announcements, which usually involve tense areas of Jerusalem. Thus the huge embarrassment inflicted on Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year, when fresh settlement construction was proclaimed in the middle of his high-level visit. And thus the undisguised irritation of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week, when yet another round of such housing was scheduled while Obama was in Asia and Netanyahu was in the United States. Apparently, the latest high-level round of the peace process has included the modest and tentative suggestion to Israel that such disclosures be timed with greater tact and coordination in the future.