“The evil that men do is remembered after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them.” — William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”
It is amazing how much Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (ZTL) has been slandered or obviously misrepresented after he died at the age of 93 in Jerusalem a few days ago. It is symbolic of the demeaning and libeling of Judaism —not just Zionism—by others nowadays; it also illustrates the media misrepresentations due either to partisanship or ignorance among many who know they will not be caught or corrected .
But it is also amazing how many Jews, particularly outside Israel, try to use Ovadia Yosef in their suicidal naivete.
Let me briefly explain.
Born in Baghdad in 1920 (how long ago and what a distant world that was!) Rabbi Yosef was recognized as a genius from an early age. He was a great teacher and jurisprudent. But he was far more than that.
I will summarize his achievements in five points.
First, Yosef gave peace a chance. At a certain point, he was really willing to take a dovish stance politically. But then, when it was clear that the Palestinian Arabs didn’t want peace, Yosef, like the majority of others in Israel—including Sephardic Jews as well as myself and many of my friends– realized it wasn’t going to work.
This is the most interesting point seen by many Israelis–though the Western media keep it a big secret so that there is not sympathy or understanding for their position.
In 2003 Rabbi Yosef wrote:
“I want to clarify my position with regard to Yesha [the West Bank settlements]. Not once have I thought that the Halachic [Jewish religious law] ruling which I issued at the time regarding ‘territories in exchange for peace’ is not valid and does not apply to the current situation. I had intended only a true peace, one in which Jerusalem and its surrounding neighborhoods would rest secure, in peace and harmony. But now we see that on the contrary, handing over territory from our holy land endangers lives. We never intended such a peace. Therefore the Oslo agreement is null and void. For I am for peace and they are for war [Quote from Psalm 120] and we have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven….”
“With much love, and one who seeks your well being with all my heart and soul; Ovadia Yosef.”
That is the obvious experience that changed millions of Israeli minds, making them sure that peace isn’t going to happen: the realization that handing over territory will not bring peace, that Arab states (and Iran or Turkey) will not accept Israel. The concept of ‘territories in exchange for peace’ is not valid and does not apply to the current situation; or at least it can and will be reversed by Islamists.
Second, he developed a Sephardic (or Mizrahi) Jewish (Middle East ) pride, identity and community and political institutions.
Third, toward the nation as a whole, he did much to integrate Sephardim into a successful national identity to produce a united people. In the 1980s, there was a really potentially explosive conflict between Jews of Eastern and Western origins such that you cannot conceive of something like it today.
Fourth, Yosef was very successful in preventing a wall from developing between more and less pious Sephardic Jews, particularly compared to Jews of European origin. It was a huge achievement that many take for granted.
A Jew with European origins will usually be either secular, Modern Orthodox, or Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox,” which is a meaningless term). Most Sephardic Jews are probably far more open. My son compares them to a spectrum like Conservative (Masorti, traditional) and “ConservOdox (Conservative-Orthodox blend).
Fifth, Yosef integrated the Sephardim into the country rather than keeping them in isolation. Most of the Haredim try to avoid army service and paid jobs. This is unthinkable for the Sephardim.
Now, what are the negatives? The first was that the political party he created, Shas, was very corrupt. Yosef trusted bad people to lead it. The defense was that the Sephardim, the last historically to get that chance, were just getting their fair share. The result was that there was a lot of corruption.
The second was that in his late 80s, Rabbi Yosef became impatient and angrier. He made statements that were intemperate at times toward his Israeli opponents and the Arabs. I might point out, without excusing those words, that the Arabs deliberately murdered thousands of Jewish children, women, and men in terrorism (with fewer than ten reciprocations?) even though Israel was ready to agree to a two-state solution in 2000. Jewish terrorists, very few in numbers, were punished by law; Palestinian terrorists were never punished by their groups or their government; indeed, they were not even delegitimized. On the contrary, they were held up as positive role models, as heroes.
Yosef never endorsed violence or terrorism. And also, as I said, he was just verbally tough against his Jewish opponents at times. )
Now, the punch-line. What characteristic did the Western and Israeli media highlight after 93 years of a near-saintly life? Of course, “anti-Arab racism!” (He also championed the immigration of Ethiopian Jews.)
And what does the mass media say about another famous religious leader, Shaykh Yosef Qaradawi, who has praised Hitler, advocated terrorism, genocide, violence, and revolution? He is often described as a moderate.
And what do the left-wing parts of the Israeli media do?
They pretend that Yosef never learned the lessons he voiced in his 2003 letter when he and many other Israelis realized that while they had wanted “true peace,” handing over land for peace didn’t work.
That, dear readers, is unfortunately why Israeli voters must act as they do. And that is why they are, unfortunately correct.
Israel was ready for a compromise peace but concluded correctly that it wasn’t possible because of the other side. It is the biggest secret in the Middle East — something the left tells lies about; the Arabs reject; and well-intentioned doves cannot admit.