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Ovadia Yosef, Sephardic Kingmaker, Dies at 93

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Iraqi-born sage who turned an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern heritage into a powerful political force, died on Monday at the age of 93, a hospital spokesman said.

Dubbed Israel’s Ayatollah by critics who condemned many of his pronouncements as racist – he likened Palestinians to snakes and said God put gentiles on earth only to serve Jews – Yosef was revered by many traditional Sephardic Jews as their supreme religious leader.

In the 1980s, Yosef founded the Shas Torah Guardians Party, once a kingmaker in Israeli politics. Prayer vigils had been held across Israel for the past month as the rabbi’s health deteriorated.

His funeral is likely to be one of the biggest in Israel’s history.

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