Chief Sephardic rabbi calls Soviet immigrants ‘religion-hating gentiles’


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said remarks made last week by Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi, are “outrageous.” Rabbi Yosef said immigrants from the former Soviet Union are “Communist, religion-hating” gentiles.

Netanyahu said immigrants from the former Soviet Union are a “huge blessing to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

At a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem last week, Rabbi Yosef criticized Israel’s Law of Return for granting citizenship to Russians who are not Jewish according to Orthodox religious law, the Yediot Acharonot daily first reported on Tuesday.

The rabbi accused the state of deliberately inviting immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel in an effort to weaken the political power of the haredi Orthodox public.

“Tens or hundreds of thousands of gentiles have come to Israel as a result of this law. Gentiles who vote for all sorts of anti-religious parties,” Rabbi Yosef said.

Israeli politicians and progressive religious leaders called for the chief rabbi’s resignation, but Rabbi Yosef said in a statement to Israeli media that his words had been “distorted.”

“I was clear and I say again: Alongside the majority of the welcome aliyah of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union … there is a minority of immigrants who are not Jewish according to Jewish law who came due to the Law of Return,” he said. “During my visits over the last month to the blooming Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine, I was exposed to the strong criticism within those communities regarding the act of bringing many who aren’t Jewish to Israel.”

Yosef’s remarks also were criticized by Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who immigrated from Ukraine in 1987, and by Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who immigrated from Moldova. Liberman’s party is the political home of many Soviet immigrants. —JTA