The State Department on Sunday condemned remarks by a prominent Israeli rabbi advocating divinely ordained death for the Palestinians and their leaders.
"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. "We note the Israeli statement that the Rabbi's comments do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister. These remarks are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace. As we move forward to relaunch peace negotiations, it is important that actions by people on all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it."
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the 89-year-old former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel and current spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, reportedly said in a sermon Saturday that "[Palestinian President] Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world … God should strike [the leaders of the Palestinian Authority] with a plague, them and these Palestinians."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the rabbi earlier Sunday, saying that his words amounted to incitement to genocide.
"Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?" Mr. Erekat said.
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly distanced itself from the rabbi, saying in a statement that his remarks "do not reflect Netanyahu's views, nor do they reflect the stance of the Israeli government."
Ovadia Yosef, whose Shas party sits in Mr. Netanyahu's primarily right-wing coalition, is no stranger to controversy, though his harshest comments have usually been reserved for Israel's secular Jewish majority.
Last year, he caused an uproar when he said that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners. He also said in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution for the lack of Torah study in the area and American support for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
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