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22 Adar II 5760 - March 29, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Attorney General Opens a Criminal Investigation of HaRav Ovadia Yosef

by Betzalel Kahn and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Many reactions, from all sides of the political system, were heard yesterday, to the decision of Attorney General Eliakim Rubinstein to instruct the Police to open a criminal investigation of HaRav Ovadia Yosef, the leader of Shas. Despite the decision and the fact that a number of Knesset members in the party wanted to withdraw from the coalition immediately, the leadership of the party has decided to remain in the coalition for the time being.

Ten days ago in his weekly motzei Shabbos broadcast, HaRav Yosef compared Meretz leader and Education Minister Yossi Sarid to Haman and Amolek. He cursed Sarid and called on G-d to blot out his memory. However, in his last shiur, though he refused to retract his remarks, HaRav Yosef made it clear that he did not advocate any violence. As the entire religious community already understood, his remarks were directed to Heaven and as directions for prayer, not as calls to physical action.

At a meeting attended by the State Prosecutor Edna Arbel, the participants decided that the remarks may be a crime and that there are grounds for conducting an investigation. They said that HaRav Yosef's remarks might violate the laws to prevent violence and the harm to others. They might also contain an element of offense to a public worker.

In his decision to open an investigation, Rubinstein noted that HaRav Ovadia Yosef made a number of clarifications in which he stressed that it is forbidden to use physical violence against Minister Sarid. HaRav Yosef published his clarification in a letter to Shas Minister Eli Yishai and later on also in an interview with a pirate radio station. However, HaRav Yosef did not retract his remarks about Sarid.

HaRav Yosef's remarks were the result of what he sees as Sarid's determination to wipe out Torah education and in particular Shas's Ma'ayan Hachinuch Hatorani school network.

Shas is demanding, among other matters, that Sarid's deputy, Shas MK Meshulam Nahari, be given direct, independent responsibility for the chareidi schools. Sarid refuses, and has said that he will never allow it.

Barak reportedly favors Shas's side of the argument, leaving Meretz no choice but to leave the government should Barak insist that Nahari get the job and the agreement be reopened.

On Monday night (21 Adar II) the Shas's Moetzes Chachamim convened and decided that for the time being the party would remain in the coalition. This decision was made despite the fact that many Knesset members in Shas recommended withdrawing from the coalition, because of the contempt shown Shas and its leaders by all of those in the government: the Prime Minster, Cabinet ministers, Minister Sarid, the Attorney General and others.

Minster of Health Rabbi Shlomo Benizri said that the decision of the Attorney General is a racist one and was taken only because the chareidi and Sephardic sectors are involved.

A short while after the Attorney General's announcement, the Shas party met and its chairman, Eli Yishai, said: "Shas rejects with disgust the contemptible decision both on the legal, the public and the Jewish plane. This decision will not stand up to public scrutiny."

He then added that the decision of the Attorney General proves that there is freedom of expression only for part of the community, and that it is very likely that the government will not finish its term and that elections will be held in advance.

Minister Benizri was angry that no Leftist who had made similar remarks toward the chareidi sector had been called to justice. "They have one problem with Shas: that it is growing." According to Benizri, until today, no Shas member ever behaved violently. "They give us the feeling that we are second and third class citizens," he said. Benizri called on Rubinstein to recommend a police inquiry into former Meretz education minister Shulamit Aloni, recently nominated by Sarid for the Israel Prize, who last week compared HaRav Yosef to Caligula.

Religious Affairs Minister Yitzchak Cohen attacked the decision in an interview in the media and said that Yossi Sarid should also be brought to justice, "His mouth is filthy with remarks against the chareidi sector, which are much sharper than those of HaRav Ovadia Yosef against him."

MK Rabbi Meir Porush said: "The decision of the Attorney General is unprecedented and dangerous. They have regressed to the lowest of levels since the founding of the State. The Attorney General should have handled the incitement and attacks against the chareidi sector, which have already resulted in assaults on people and synagogues, in the same way."

The Center for the Prevention of Defamation announced: "After the grim forecasts of violence on the part of Shas were proven false again and again, the decision of Rubinstein is very perplexing and worth of reproach. His decision means the government uses force only against one particular camp, especially in the light of its continual coddling of inciters, including Shulamit Aloni. This action clearly exacerbates the rift in Israel."

The Left was also not silent. Minister Ran Cohen said that he honors the decision of the Attorney General, and accepts it in the same way that Meretz accepts every other decision of the Attorney General. "It is a pity that HaRav Ovadia Yosef and the heads of Shas have not expressed regret over that remark. If HaRav Ovadia Yosef would do that, there might have been no need to resort to this procedure," Cohen said.

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