At a time when Jews around the world are seeking solidarity against common enemies — from Brooklyn to Tehran — Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi has chosen to disparage citizens of his own country who emigrated from the Soviet Union.
Speaking in Jerusalem last week, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef lamented that under Israel’s Law of Return, “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.” He called the Russian-speaking aliyah an attempt by Israel to intentionally weaken the political power of the Orthodox parties.
It’s true that perhaps hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the FSU are not Jewish according to halacha, or rabbinic law. Nonetheless, they have become productive, essential contributors to Israel, shedding their blood in defense of the state, working hard to build new lives and strengthen Israel as a haven for all Jews. It’s also true that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has rejected reforms that would make it easier for many of these immigrants and their children to undergo conversion, and marry in Israel.
Rabbi Yosef said in a statement that his words had been “distorted,” but appeared only to double down on his original comments by saying he had support among the “blooming Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine.”
If Rabbi Yosef cares about the future and unity of the Jewish people, he should apologize to all Israelis and support a system that helps those whose families fled decades of intolerance enjoy their full rights and privileges in the country that welcomed them.