David Lau, the recently elected chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, was broadly condemned for a racist comment about basketball players at the Maccabiah Games.
Exhorting his haredi Orthodox constituents to devote their time to learning Torah rather than watching basketball, Lau said on Tuesday, “Why do you care about whether the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Tel Aviv beat the ‘kushim’ who get paid in Greece?” Kushim is a derogatory Israeli slang 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.
According to The Jerusalem Post, Knesset Education and Sports Committee Chairman Amram Mitzna said it was “very unfortunate that rabbis who are supposed to guide the way ethically fail time and time again by making racist statements.”
Lau, who was elected last week as chief rabbi, canceled a planned vacation abroad after the remarks were published.
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.