JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rabbi David Lau, the newly elected chief rabbi of Israel, said a remark he made about blacks that was widely condemned as racist was a “joke.”
Lau told haredi Orthodox students at a yeshiva in the Israeli town of Modiin Illit last week to stop hanging out at convenience stores to watch basketball on television.
“Why do you care about whether the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Greece?” he said, using a derogatory Israeli term for blacks.
The remarks were first reported by a phone news service for haredim, Hakol Haharedi, and subsequently picked up by major Israeli newspapers.
In an interview Thursday on Israel Radio, Lau responded to the criticism by saying that Israelis “excel at taking a humorous remark and turning it into a headline.” He added, “The one and only headline is: You are yeshiva students so sit and study Torah.”
Lau was elected last month to a 10-year term as Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi. After the reports this week about his comment, he canceled a planned vacation abroad.