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Chief rabbi doubles down on comments against immigrants as Liberman urges probe

Sephardic leader also claims his filmed comments calling some former Soviet Union ‘religion-hating gentiles’ were ‘distorted by politically interested sources.’

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Tuesday doubled down on his assertions while also claiming his words had been distorted by politicians.

“I said it clearly and I will repeat it: Alongside the welcome immigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union, who gave their lives for many years to maintain the Jewish flame, there is a minority of immigrants who are not Jews according to tradition, who came due to the grandchild clause in the Law of Return that allows those whose mother and father are not Jewish to immigrate,” Yosef said in a statement.

“Those who bring in great numbers of non-Jews to Israel through this clause due to unclean considerations are being unfair first and foremost toward those immigrants, and leave them at every stage of their lives facing an impossible reality of living in a Jewish state,” he said.

Yosef asserted that “amending the Law of Return is first and foremost in the interest of those immigrants.”

He claimed that during visits to “flourishing Jewish communities in Russia and Ukraine” he was “exposed to serious criticism in the communities towards the bringing in of many immigrants who are not Jews to Israel.”

At the same time, Yosef also claimed his initial comments on the matter — which raised a storm of criticism against him — were “distorted by interested political sources who have for many months incited against Jewish tradition and law.”

He also stressed that “alongside the criticism, as Jews we must accept any resident of the land [and] value their contribution to us as as a society. Our Bible teaches us to respect every human being.”

In a video published by the Ynet news site early Tuesday, Yosef referred to immigrants from the former Soviet Union as “religion-hating gentiles.”

Liberman called for Yosef’s resignation over his statements, saying that his words were “anti-Semitic and racist.” He expressed hope that Yosef would be replaced by someone who wouldn’t “separate and divide” people.

Liberman, himself an immigrant from Moldova, a former Soviet republic, later said Yosef was “not the chief rabbi, but the chief inciter.”

Liberman refused to join a government led by Netanyahu last May over disagreements with ultra-Orthodox parties on the military draft law of ultra-Orthodox students. In November he published a list of demands regarding religion and state, saying they are the absolute minimum to which his secular party will agree in any negotiations to form a coalition government after the March elections.