“Rabbi David Lau was caught on tape referring to African American basketball players as ‘kushim,’ a derogatory term for black people.
Newly elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau became embroiled in a controversy on Tuesday after he was recorded making remarks about African-American basketball players that some judged as racist.
“Why do you care whether these Kushim [a derogatory term used in Hebrew for black people] who are paid in Tel Aviv beat the kushim who are paid in Greece?” Rabbi Lau said in a meeting with ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, in an attempt to dissuade them from watching basketball on television. The recording was broadcast by Hakol Haharedi, a Haredi news service.
Lau also said that yeshiva students who are seen watching television in public harm the ultra-Orthodox community’s efforts to avoid blanket draft to the Israel Defense Forces.
“If the general public sees yeshiva students engaged in Torah studies and not watching TV, their questions about draft-dodging will disappear,” he said.
MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid), an Israeli of Ethiopian origin, accused Rabbi Lau of racism.
“It’s unacceptable that a man who sees himself as worthy of serving as Israel’s chief rabbi exhibits such poor choice of words,” she said. “Sadly, he is the face of the Chief Rabbinate. Next time an Ethiopian-Israeli couple asks him to marry them, he might say, ‘Why do you care whether Jewish kushim marry?'”
Similar statements were made by the incoming Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who in May accused the Treasury of financing “kushim in basketball” at the expense of synagogues and mikvehs.”
“African Americans for Justice in the Middle East & North Africa’ condemn rising tide of racism in Israeli society”
“We, the undersigned, condemn in the strongest possible terms recent racist comments made by Israel’s newly-elected chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau, who referred to African-American basketball players playing in Israel as “kushim,” a derogatory term that is akin to “nigger.” Rabbi Lau, a government official who is paid by the state and who is scheduled to serve a ten-year term as one of two official chief Israeli rabbis, made the offensive remarks to young Jewish religious students while warning them against watching televised sports like basketball. Following criticism from anti-racism activists, Rabbi Lau was defended by Natfali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Religious Services and leader of the Jewish Home party.
Regrettably, the sentiments expressed by Rabbi Lau reflect a larger problem of racism in Israeli society. In recent years, Israel has witnessed a rising tide of socially acceptable bigotry, particularly against African asylum seekers and Palestinians, fanned by senior religious and political figures. In June 2012, Israel’s then-Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, declared that Israel “belongs to us, to the white man,” in response to a question about Muslim asylum seekers. The previous month, Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Likud party, helped incite a wave of violence against Africans after making fear-mongering and incendiary comments about asylum seekers. In one instance, Likud parliamentarian Miri Regev described African refugees as a “cancer in our body” at a rally in Tel Aviv that degenerated into what local media described as a “race riot” in which random individuals of African descent were attacked in the street. Around the same time, a series of arsons and other violent attacks were carried out against Africans in Israel. The situation was so bad that a group of ambassadors from African countries complained to Israel’s foreign ministry that African diplomats were afraid to walk down the street.
The situation for Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories is no better. Those who are citizens of Israel suffer systematic discrimination as non-Jews living in a self-defined “Jewish state,” while those living under Israeli military rule are denied the most basic of political and civil rights, which are accorded to Jewish settlers living in illegal settlements right next to them, simply because they are not Jewish. Increasingly, the world is recognizing the regime that Israel has instituted in the territories that it controls between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as a form of apartheid.
As African Americans and as citizens of the United States, which provides enormous economic, military, and diplomatic support to the state of Israel, we are appalled by Rabbi Lau’s racist statement, the lack of condemnation from senior Israeli and American officials that it engendered, and by the disturbing growth in openly racist attitudes expressed in Israel against Africans, Palestinians, and others. We call on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama, and all peoples of conscience, to condemn Rabbi Lau’s comments and the growing culture of intolerance and naked racism in Israeli society that they represent, and to demand his immediate removal from his position as chief Ashkenazi rabbi. As negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians begin again under the rubric of the US-sponsored peace process, which reportedly includes a demand supported by the Obama administration that Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” we also urge politicians and all others concerned to acknowledge and address the worsening racism and discrimination suffered by Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel. Failure to do so will mean the perpetuation of the injustices done to the Palestinian people, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of the results of any negotiations.
Dr. Adisa A. Alkebulan
Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
Rev. Dr. Carolyn Boyd
Dr. Gloria Brown
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Dr. Rhone Fraser
Dr. Angela Gilliam
Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler
Dr. Jennifer F. Hamer
Dr. James Jennings
Dr. Robin Kelley
Rev. Dr. Phil Lawson
Dr. Charles Pinderhughes
Dr. Russell Rickford
Dr. Lynn Roberts
Dr. Elijah Ward”