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Koscher leben...

Aktiv gegen Nazi-Propaganda!
Jüdische Weisheit

Englischsprachige Übersetzungen 
aus der israelischen Presse

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Let the public decide

There is no need to wait for Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein's decision to know that the rhetorical thuggery used by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef against Education Minister Yossi Sarid is a clear-cut violation of the law. Rabbi Yosef's call to impose Haman's fate on Sarid could be interpeted by some as green light to harm the minister physically.

Public leaders should take into consideration the potential for violence in their words, and from that point of view, a rabbi's rhetoric can be much more dangerous than any other person's. The fact that the rabbi leads a large congregation of believers who are not known for their skepticism and critical outlook, only adds to the burden of responsibility on his shoulders.

For his entire career, Rabbi Yosef has preached against bloodshed, and the political movement he established does not preach violence. In that sense, the case of Rabbi Yosef is different from those in which right-wing rabbis spoke out against certain groups or people and were sometimes the motivating force and supporters for gangs of thugs like Kach activists.

From a great leader, one can expect a dignified expression of remorse at times like these. But Rabbi Yosef chose to fan the flames of distrust between the camps. While he reiterated this week that he did not mean to call for physical violence against Sarid, this did not prevent him from also reiterating his brutal remarks about Sarid. It is regrettable that the rabbi is fanning the flames of hatred, and one can only hope that the public will react to his speeches with the appropriate revulsion.

If the attorney general decides to press charges against Rabbi Yosef, he should bear in mind the likely results of such a prosecution. A criminal investigation does not usually take place if there is no intention of putting the suspect on trial. One is to hope that an investigation will not be used in and of itself as a means of punishment. Since there is no difficulty proving that the rabbi did indeed utter inciting statements, the state will be required to conduct a trial against the leader of a large political movement for the words he used in a speech to his supporters. This is an unacceptable scenario, with ramifications that could seriously damage the social fabric.

The way to deal with the rhetoric of a public leader is in the political arena and not in the courts. Repudiation, too, should be heard from public stages and not from the witness box. If Rabbi Yosef were to be convicted, it is difficult to imagine what punishment could be imposed upon him - and what good it would do: deterence? revenge? rehabilitation? Just as nobody considered prosecuting Menachem Begin for his incitement against the left during his speeches at public rallies, it is not appropriate to use a legal instrument to put the Shas leader in his place.

The Israeli legal system gives the attorney general a great deal of latitude and he is not required to prosecute everyone who breaks the law. When it comes to the political arena, he should be very careful and avoid any intervention in freedom of expression, even in unpleasant cases. Prosecuting Rabbi Yosef will not dull the sting of his incitement nor repair the damage, but there is great concern that the process itself would only inspire more hatred.


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