Emmanuel Rosen
Photo: Sharon Beck
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Photo: Guy Assayag

Israel’s No. 1 politician

Op-ed: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has seen it all and is more influential than any minister

He was here when the young Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on his term as UN ambassador and when the young Barack Obama worked with youngsters in poor US neighborhoods. Back then already, his word meant everything; politicians bowed down to him and asked for his approval. Nobody really understood his language and fables, yet everyone praised him and tried to curry favor with him.


In our unstable politics, where no government can last for long and no prime minister manages to survive for more than a term-and-a-half in office, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is an island of stability. A religious dictator who divides the world to good guys and bad guys in line with conservative, religious worldviews, and who within Israel’s democracy holds greater decision-making power than any minister elected by the public; at times, he is even more influential than the prime minister.


For 26 years now, somehow, after all the discussions and negotiations and cabinet votes and trips to America and press commentary, it always ends up boiling down to the rabbi’s decision; we have not yet found the bold prime minister who would say: No more. I won’t do it.


The kippah will pulled out and put on one’s head, the rabbi will wait in his chair for the guest to bow down and shake the holy hand, and from there it all depends on the guest’s qualities of bargaining and persuasion, and at times just on his highness’ mood.


To rabbi Ovadia’s credit we should note that in the truly important junctions he gives his blessing to the moves desired by the government. In between one sermon and another and in between the call to eliminate Abbas to characterizing Israel’s teachers as “assess,” he endorsed peace talks and compromises, the withdrawal from Lebanon, and military restraint when necessary. We won’t be surprised if he also approves the current freeze.


The sad truth

The question is, of course, what it says about our politics. And the answer is that it attests to how unserious it is. Leadership and the need for research work and orderly decision-making are replaced by smalltime politics, and Shas is smalltime politics at its finest. It’s all about bargaining and scratching each other’s back, and all is enveloped by the rabbi’s holy robe. Yet behind the robe hides the truth, and it’s a sad one.


The more prominent the rabbi’s stability and the more urgent the need to pay the rabbi a visit, the more conspicuous is the absence of real leadership; one that is supposed to take decisions and lead, rather than always reaching the last resort of compromises with Rabbi Ovadia.


Still, if this is the case, we should at least be grateful that the rabbi’s decisions are always more logical than the declarations that lead there. If we do not have real democracy here, at least we’ll have a religious dictator who is as enlightened as possible and will help the weak secular leadership.


The man who has been through eight prime ministers and eight governments here is at the end of the day Israel’s most experienced politician. It’s a little amusing and mostly sad, but at the end of the day you’ll see that Rabbi Ovadia is the one who gives his blessing to a final-status agreement.



פרסום ראשון: 11.24.10, 18:15
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