WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration condemned what it said was incitement by an influential Israeli rabbi.
"We regret and condemn the inflammatory statements by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Sunday in a statement.
On the eve of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Yosef, a former chief Sephardic rabbi and the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, wished for the demise of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world," Yosef reportedly said during his weekly Saturday night sermon at a Jerusalem synagogue, using Abbas’ byname. "God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."
Palestinian Authority officials have asked the Israeli government to condemn the remarks. Shas is a member of the governing coalition, but Yosef has no formal government role.
"We note the Israeli statement that the Rabbi’s comments do not reflect the views of the Prime Minister." Crowley said. "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."
U.S. officials in the past have condemned incitement by the Hamas terrorist group, which governs the Gaza Strip, and by bodies associated with the Palestinian Authority.
The Anti-Defamation League on Monday condemned Yosef’s statements as “offensive and incendiary,” cautioning that his words “contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred.”