Israel’s New Haredi Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Makes Racist Remark, Sparks Outrage
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Israel’s new haredi Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, David Lau, was just elected last week.
Lau opened his 10-year term inauspiciously today when speaking to students of the haredi yeshiva Lau himself graduated from. The haredi news hotline Kav Hahasifot reported that Lau made a racist remark about basketball players – a remark that has outraged many Israelis, especially the many Israelis who are weary of haredi rabbis’ frequent offensive and abusive behavior, after the Israeli daily Ma'ariv posted an audio recording of Lau saying it.
Lau spoke about the practice many haredi yeshiva students have of watching basketball games at neighborhood convenience stores on Thursday nights. Most haredim do not have their own television sets because their rabbis prohibit watching television.
"Who cares if a bunch of paid 'Cushim'in Tel Aviv beat a bunch of paid 'Cushim' in Greece?" Chief Rabbi David Lau said, using a derogatory term for Black people that is in Modern Hebrew the rough equivalent of the English-language “N” word, “darkie” and “coon."
"Even my kashrut supervisors are ashamed to enter places where haredi men are prone to watching a colorful screen on Thursday nights in the winter," Lau continued, adding that if the public sees young haredi studying Torah instead of watching basketball, there would be no forced military draft of haredi yeshiva students. Lau also said that he could not defend haredi yeshiva students against the draft if they persist in watching basketball.
Israel HaYom intentionally mistranslates "cushim" as "a colloquial term for black people." Ynet mistranslates "cushim" as "black" and does not acknowledge Lau's racisim at all. The Jerusalem Post says that Lau's remark was called racist, but it inexplicably does not explain why.
Israel has been rocked by several wide reaching scandals involving alleged racism of the government or its agents, including an ongoing scandal involving allegedly forced long acting birth control for Ethiopian immigrants meant to reduce the size of their population. The Likud-led government has tried very hard behind the scenes to coerce media into downplaying the scope and force of these stories or into not covering them altogether.
Nonetheless, Lau's comment was condemned by several leading members of Knesset – but none from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.
MK Amram Mitzna of the Hatnua Party said it was "very unfortunate that rabbis who are supposed to guide the way ethically fail time and time again by making racist statements." Mitzna is the chairman of the Knesset's Education and Sports Committee.
Labor MK Nachman Shai said Lau should apologize to Blacks who come to Israel to play basketball and the Black Jews who live in Israel.
"Rabbi Lau's father, who survived Auschwitz, should teach his son about tolerance and equality," Shai also said, adding that he was disappointed that Pope Francis was
making unexpectedly liberal comments about gays while Israel's new haredi Ashkenazi chief
rabbi was making racist remarks.
“[The head of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party Naftali] Bennett was right. The Chief Rabbinate must change. It is unfathomable that a rabbi of his stature would say something so racist. There is no doubt that if this is how the Chief Rabbinate will look in the coming years, woe to us. Next time an Ethiopian couple comes to him [to marry], the rabbi might say, 'Who cares if Jewish Cushim get married?' It is a sad situation when a man who sees himself as worthy of serving as Israel's chief rabbi expresses himself in such a racist way," Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata of the Yesh Atid Party, said in response. Tamano-Shata is the first Ethiopian woman to serve in the Knesset.
But Naftali Bennet, a right wing politician not known for his tolerance, defended Lau by attacking the media.
He told the Jerusalem Post that the media needed to stop "stalking public figures" and "hunting for statements" that could hurt them. Bennett added that he was sure Lau would do a wonderful job as chief rabbi.
Lau's office reportedly refused to comment on the response to his remarks or on the remarks themselves.