Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi Yitzhak Yosef delivered a sermon (video above with English translation by Ronnie Barkan) to the faithful two weeks ago in which he argued that Jewish law (halacha) directs the State to expel all non-Jews [ie. Palestinians] from Israel. Of course, he adds some qualifiers: if they accept the Noahide Laws, they may remain (because they will be useful as servants to Jews). But otherwise, they may be driven from the land.
He suggested that Saudi Arabia would be a perfect place to send them. This notion is a long-time Kahanist proposal, though another chief rabbi did suggest sending Palestinians to the Sinai where they would “make the desert bloom like Arizona.”
Here are his translated remarks:
According to halacha, it’s forbidden for goyim [Palestinians] to live in Israel. Unless he takes upon himself to observe the Noahide Laws. If he doesn’t, one of them [the Laws] is not to commit suicide [this is a veiled reference to the Intifada knife attacks in which he views Palestinians as “committing suicide” by attacking Israeli troops], send them to Saudi Arabia. This is according to the halacha. If we [Israel] were were sovereign [i.e. a halachically legitimate State] that would be what we must do [in effect arguing that the current Israeli state is illegitimate under halacha]. Goyim may not live in the land of Israel.
If we don’t have the power to do it now, we await the coming of the true Messiah. Then we will do it.
A foreigner residing here who accepts the seven Noahide Laws may live here. Who will make this happen? Who will be our servants? They will serve us. That’s why we permit them to remain here in the land.
We should note that some of these views are not new. One of the most virulent of settler rabbis, Dov Lior, has advanced precisely this plan. I called it the Palestinian “Right of Return”… to Saudi Arabia! The previous chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef (Yitzhak Yosef’s father), ruled that Palestinians were donkeys meant to serve Israeli Jews. But I don’t recall the father ever calling explicitly for ethnic cleansing.
There are many dangers in this sermon. Of course, there is the explicit moral outrage we feel toward an Israeli advocating ethnic cleansing. But there is an even deeper problem, at least as far as Jews are concerned. In this statement, Israel’s chief rabbi has implicated the entire Jewish tradition with an illegal, immoral concept. All those who argue that Judaism and Zionism must not be conflated are defeated by arguments like this one. Now, every Islamist terrorist, every anti-Semite, everyone may claim that Judaism itself is racist.
This claim is false. But when a chief rabbi, no matter how outrageous his words, makes such a claim it becomes that much harder to dispute it from within the Jewish tradition. Just to be clear, there is absolutely no credible halachic validation for expelling the indigenous inhabitants of Israel. There are of course verses and portions of the Torah which he may refer to as justifying his stance (just as one may find such racist interpretations in most religious traditions). But those sources will be a distortion of the mainstream halachic tradition.
In truth, this is a form of Judaism. A warped form of Judaism. But it is more akin to idolatory than the religion I know. It is the worship of hate and violence. My Jewish God, as I’ve said here many times, does not condone such hate. God is good. When humanity is not good God does not endorse its evil.
The problem is that Israeli Jews have at least tacitly endorsed these hateful views. Why else would he be the State’s official chief rabbi? Why else would he control one of the larger political parties in the Knesset? Why else would he and Shas control millions of shekels worth of government subsidies? In effect, the government endorses the hate he spews.
That being said, any anti-Semite or Islamist fundamentalist who misconstrues our tradition (whether from ignorance or willful prejudice) to reinforce their own preconceived idea about Judaism has done a grave disservice to truth and Jewish tradition.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.