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Son of Shas rabbi uses racial slur to attack budget cuts

In presence of Jerusalem mayor at opening of ritual bath, Rabbi David Yosef invokes ‘Cushim’ epithet

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Rabbi Dov Yosef, center,seen with his father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, left, and President Shimon Peres  (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel/GPO/Flash90)
Rabbi Dov Yosef, center,seen with his father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, left, and President Shimon Peres (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel/GPO/Flash90)

The son of a prominent rabbi used a racial slur Sunday to attack the government for not earmarking enough money for religious institutions.

“If we’re talking about the sports budget, there is plenty of money to bring a few Cushim to play basketball, but when its a budget for synagogues or ritual baths, there’s nothing,” Rabbi David Yosef said, employing a Hebrew epithet for black people that is considered by some to be the local equivalent of the “n-word.”

Yosef, the son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, made his remarks at a ceremony marking the opening of an large new ritual bath, or mikvah, in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.

David Yosef is the official rabbi of the mostly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood on the capital’s western edge.

During the ceremony, Yosef claimed that ultra-Orthodox “are class-D citizens, and don’t count anymore.”

“The yeshiva world is no longer a given. We are entering a very difficult period,” he told the crowd.

While highly critical of the Finance Ministry and its budget plans, Yosef had only praise for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was at the event.

Barkat, facing an election in October, noted that city hall had contributed NIS 13 million of the NIS 14.5 million needed for the project.

“We are talking about an investment three times larger” than past governments, Barkat said.

Yosef’s remarks came as Israel is roiling over proposed tax hikes and budgets cuts to bring the treasury under control.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid has made clear he wants to cut entitlements enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community, including child allowances and earmarks for Haredi schools that don’t teach core subjects.

On Sunday, a day after 10,000 took to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest the plan, the national security cabinet met in Jerusalem to debate proposed cuts to the defense budget.

The Finance Ministry, which faces the daunting task of closing some of 2012′s NIS 39 billion ($11 billion) deficit, wishes to trim some NIS 6.5 billion ($2 billion) in government spending. If Lapid gets his way, NIS 4 billion ($1.12 billion) of that sum will come out of the Defense Ministry’s budget. According to the proposal, the army will be allocated NIS 51 billion ($14.29 billion) in 2013 and NIS 54.6 billion ($15.29 billion) in 2014.

The discussions were supposed to continue Monday, Israel Radio reported.

On Saturday night, 10,000 people marched in Tel Aviv while hundreds more assembled in other locations to protest Lapid‘s proposed budget cuts and tax hikes, in what organizers hope will mark a resurgence of the social justice protests of summer 2011.

Much of the criticism hinges on the decision to opt for across-the-board tax hikes and cuts to services while forgoing some measures that critics say could bolster the state coffers without worsening the plight of the middle and lower classes. Among the proposed measures that the treasury chose to pass over was an inheritance tax, differential sales tax rates and a higher levy on income from investments.

In a rare show of secular-ultra-Orthodox solidarity, men in black hats stood side by side with secular protesters in Tel Aviv.

Amid the public discourse on the budget, a Channel 2 poll last week found that 42% of the voting public ranked Lapid’s performance as finance minister as poor, with 52% ranking him as good or mediocre, and with the remaining respondents offering no opinion.

When asked if appointing the freshman politician to the role was a mistake, 50% said yes. While 47% of Yesh Atid voters said they would still vote for Lapid if the elections were held today, 28% said they would vote for somebody else, with 28% saying they don’t know.

The survey, conducted by Shiluv Millward Brown research institute, polled 400 adults. The survey had a 4.9% margin of error.

Elie Leshem and Yifa Yaakov contributed to this report.

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