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In another email leaked to Tablet, Roth washes his hands by comparing the words and deeds of Iran’s leaders and its military satellites to that of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Israeli political party Shas. In the email, Roth wrote of Yosef:

Speaking initially of “Iranian rulers” but then simply of “Iran” (notably, not even the state of Iran) as well as Hezbollah, he said, “May God cut them down and destroy them off the face of the earth.”  This is similar to his statement two years ago directed toward the Palestinians: “Abu Mazen [Abbas] and all those evil men – may they perish from this world. May God Almighty strike them and these Palestinians.”

Would you suggest that Human Rights Watch denounce these statements as incitement to genocide?  If not, what is the difference between these statements and the ones by Iranian leaders that you consider incitement to genocide. After all, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s statements are arguably more direct than those made by Iranian leaders, and Israel, unlike Iran, has the means to carry them out.

I won’t defend Yosef’s disgusting remarks. Neither will a panoply of Jewish and Israeli organizations that condemned them, nor the Israeli government, which immediately said that Yosef’s words “do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel.” That’s the first distinction here.

The second and more obvious distinction, which makes Roth’s comparison between Yosef and Iran’s leadership all the more troubling, is that Yosef is a fringe, fanatical figure in Israel. While he remains influential in some circles, he is neither a head of state nor an official who sets government policy. And despite his inflammatory prayers, Yosef also opposes a military strike on Iran.

The same can’t be said for Iran and its leaders, whose incitements go unchallenged in Iran and, apparently, in the top offices of Human Rights Watch.