- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

JERUSALEM Israelis responded angrily yesterday after the rabbi who heads the biggest ultra-Orthodox political party said the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of the Shas party, also declared that Prime Minister Ehud Barak has "no sense" because he is trying to make peace with the Palestinians, who are "snakes."

Rabbi Yosef was speaking in his weekly Saturday-night sermon that is broadcast over the party's radio stations and is beamed overseas by satellite.

He called the Nazis "evil" and the victims "poor people," but he said those killed "were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, people who transgressed and did all sorts of things which should not be done. They had been reincarnated in order to atone."

Mr. Barak told the Cabinet yesterday the statement was unworthy of a man of Rabbi Yosef's status.

"His words are liable to harm the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and are liable to hurt the feelings of their families and the feelings of the entire nation," Mr. Barak said, according to a statement from his office.

Legislator Yosef Lapid, who heads the secularist Shinui party, said Rabbi Yosef is "an old fool" who has done a service to those who are trying to rehabilitate Adolf Hitler's reputation.

"In the world it will be said that a distinguished rabbi in Israel is in effect confirming what Hitler said, that the Jews are sinners," said Mr. Lapid, who is himself a Holocaust survivor.

The two main radio stations were inundated with phone calls and messages, most of them criticizing Rabbi Yosef's statement.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum labeled Rabbi Yosef's remarks "miserable."

"With all due respect to such a leader, it's hard to understand where Rabbi Yosef gets the courage to explain the intentions and ways of the supreme authority," the museum said in a release.

Israel's Chief Rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, who is also a Holocaust survivor, said Judaism has a concept of reincarnation and of the righteous dying to atone for sin in a previous life, but he told Israel radio that did not account for the Holocaust.

"I have no explanation for the Holocaust," said Rabbi Lau, who was a child at the time and lost most of his family in the death camps. He appealed to Israelis to "stop probing into [the Holocaust] in such a blatant, painful, hurtful manner."

Shas Chairman Eli Ishai said criticism of Rabbi Yosef is unjustified. "Rabbi Ovadia weeps for every Jew who is killed … but nobody, not even a saint, has not sinned. Everyone dies in a state of sin. Nobody can be perfect all his life."

Rabbi Yosef, who ordered Shas to quit Mr. Barak's coalition as the prime minister was leaving for the Camp David summit, also described the Arabs as "snakes" interested mainly in murdering Jews.

"What kind of peace is this?" Rabbi Yosef asked. "Will you put them beside us? You are bringing snakes beside us… . Will we make peace with a snake?"

Col. Jebril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, said Rabbi Yosef's statement about Arabs was racist. A religious leader should be trying to promote tolerance among Jews, Muslims and Christians, Col. Rajoub told Israel radio.

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