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The BBC's Paul Adams
"Rarely has he offended so many people at once"
 real 56k

Secularist Shinui Party member, Tommy Lapid
"This is the worst thing I heard since I came to Israel"
 real 28k

Monday, 7 August, 2000, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Fury over Holocaust remarks
Holocaust picture
Nearly six million Jews died in the Holocaust
One of Israel's most powerful religious leaders, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has caused outrage by referring to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust as "reincarnated sinners" and Palestinians as "snakes".

The 79-year-old Iraqi-born rabbi, who is spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, made the remarks at a religious gathering in Jerusalem on Saturday.

He also attacked Prime Minister Ehud Barak's attempts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.


This hate-filled language betrays a racist attitude which is extremely destructive

Hanan Ashrawi

Senior Israeli figures said Rabbi Yosef's remarks would cause offence and divisions, while Palestinian leaders condemned him as "racist".

Shas has 17 members in the 120-seat parliament, and was in Mr Barak's coalition until a month ago, when Rabbi Yosef ordered it to quit on the eve of the Camp David peace summit.

The party is opposed to any concessions to Palestinians and has been leading a campaign against Mr Barak on the issue.

Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Rabbi Yosef opposes concessions to Palestinians

"Why do you bring them (the Palestinians) close to us?" Rabbi Yosef said in the sermon. "You bring snakes next to us. How can you make peace with a snake?"

On the Nazi Holocaust, he said the Jews who died were reincarnations of earlier souls, who had sinned time and time again.

"These are incarnations of those who have sinned and made others sin... They were reincarnated to make amends."

Unworthy

Mr Barak told a cabinet meeting that the comments were unworthy of a rabbi of Mr Yosef's status.

Tommy Lapid, the leader of the avowedly secular Shinui party, told Israel radio the "vile statements will delight the remaining Nazis in the world".

Avner Shalev, director of the Yad Vashem museum of the Holocaust, said the rabbi's comments created "only more splits and divisions" in Israeli society.

Palestinian leaders reacted angrily, saying the rabbi's comments jeopardised the peace process.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and former peace negotiator, said "this hate-filled language betrays a racist attitude which is extremely destructive".

"With such a racist attitude it is very hard to make peace."

Shas political clout

Shas has enjoyed a meteoric rise since its foundation in the 1980s, upsetting the Left-versus-Right nature of Israeli politics. The party has held cabinet posts in governments of both sides since 1992.

Rabbi Yosef has a large following of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern origin.

Ashkenazi, or European-origin Jews, formed the overwhelming majority of Holocaust victims.

There was a strong reaction to the rabbi's remarks among the Israeli public.

Israel's two main radio stations have been inundated with phone calls and fax messages, most of them criticising Rabbi Yosef's statement.

Israel is home to 230,000 people who lived in Nazi Germany or countries conquered by the Nazis.

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See also:

04 Aug 00 | Middle East
Barak's breathing space
22 Jun 00 | Middle East
Shas: Breaking the Israeli mould
01 May 00 | Middle East
Barak faces coalition break-up
29 Dec 99 | Middle East
Shas signals Israeli coalition deal
27 Mar 00 | Middle East
Israeli police probe religious leader
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