December 5, 2013
Ailing Ovadia Yosef dies at age 93Tuesday, October 8, 2013
700,000 attend funeral of revered Israeli rabbi
JERUSALEM — Some 700,000 mourners took to the streets of Jerusalem yesterday for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Iraqi-born sage who transformed an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle East heritage into a powerful political force.
Streets were engulfed by a sea of black coats and hats as weeping ultra-Orthodox faithful honoured a cleric they deemed their supreme spiritual leader. The van carrying his body was held up for hours as masses blocked the route to the cemetery.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the funeral for Yosef, who died yesterday aged 93, was the biggest ever held in the holy city.
Dubbed “Israel’s Ayatollah” by critics who condemned many of his pronouncements as racist — he likened Palestinians to snakes and said God put gentiles on earth only to serve Jews — Yosef was revered by many Sephardic Jews. Through the Shas (Hebrew acronym for Sephardic Torah Guardians) party he founded in the early 1980s, Yosef, regal in his gold embroidered robes and turban, also wielded unique political influence from his modest apartment in Jerusalem.
“The people of Israel lost one of the wisest of a generation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “Rabbi (Yosef) was a giant in Torah and Jewish law and a mentor to tens of thousands.”
More than 4,000 police officers were deployed to ensure the security of the “more than 700,000 people taking part in the largest of funeral ever in Israel,” Rosenfeld said.
At its height, Shas — now in opposition — held 17 of the Israeli Parliament’s 120 seats. For years, Yosef as its leader served as a political kingmaker who could make or break coalition governments.
Israelis pay rare visit to
A delegation of Israeli lawmakers paid a rare visit to the West Bank yesterday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Visiting the same compound where Israeli troops once laid siege on late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the 10 Israeli lawmakers pledged support for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resumed in July after years of stalemate and mutual suspicion.
They insisted they were not in Ramallah in place of official negotiations, whose content has remained secret, but rather to give them a “tailwind” of support and stress the urgency of their mission.
“We don’t want to believe that this is the last chance (for peace) but it may be the last chance,” said Labour Party lawmaker Hilik Bar, who heads the parliamentary caucus for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Of the 10 lawmakers who journeyed to Ramallah, nine were from the opposition Labor Party. The other came from chief negotiator Tzipi Livni’s centrist Hatnuah Party. Several from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party withdrew following the death of their spiritual leader, Rabbi Yosef.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has embraced the idea of a Palestinian state, but has also embraced tough positions in recent speeches. In a speech on Sunday, Netanyahu said there will never be peace until Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland for the Jews.
The Palestinians have rejected this demand, saying it would undercut the fate of refugees who dream of returning to lost properties in what is now Israel.
Last week, Netanyahu made just a passing reference to the peace talks in a speech to the UN, devoting almost the entire address to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Herald with AP, Reuters