Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - One of Israel's most influential religious leaders expressed concern for his safety after a Jordanian businessman offered more than a million dollar reward for his death, because of his call for the annihilation of Arabs.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas political party, angered Arabs and Israelis alike with comments he made in a sermon before the Jewish holiday of Passover began, when he said that Arabs should be "joyfully hit with rockets."
"It's forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send rockets at them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable," added Yosef, who is notorious for making inflammatory statements.
Yosef's aides were quick to clarify his statements, saying that he had been speaking about "terrorists" only, and not all Arabs.
Shas party lawmaker Yair Peretz said that Yosef had never intended any "harm" to "peace-loving Arabs." He meant to refer "to those terrorists who fire at us daily [and] harm our children."
Nevertheless, the attempted clarification has done little to calm the row. The rabbi's remarks come at a time Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trying to renew security cooperation in an effort to bring down the level of violence.
A Jordanian newspaper this week published an advertisement offering a $1.4 million dollar bounty to anyone who killed Yosef.
Shas party leader Eli Yishai said he had spoken to top security officials about the threat, and that security around Yosef might be increased.
But Israeli Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi dismissed the threat against Yosef.
"Ovadia Yosef will not die as a result of an assassination attempt by an Arab," he said. "He is not threatened by Arabs."
"We express our disgust at his wicked, poisonous words," said Tibi, a former advisor to PA Chairman Yasser Arafat. "But if he breathes his last breath, it will be because of wickedness ... or because of his poisonous ideas, or because of a bite from one of the snakes in Shas."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa also condemned the rabbi's remarks as "an invitation to mass murder." PA Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said it was the third time that "this racist leader issues such statements of incitement to hatred."
The 80-year-old rabbi has in the past also raised the ire of Israelis. Last year he offended world Jewry when called victims of the Holocaust "reincarnated sinners."
The Anti-Defamation League, which usually monitors and responds to cases of anti-Semitism, also decried Yosef's Arab comments, which do not reflect the views of mainstream Israelis.
"We deplore such statements which are inimical to Jewish teachings, and serve to perpetuate stereotypes and hateful images," ADL director in Israel, Wayne Firestone said. "Rabbi Yosef has, several times in the recent past, given anti-Semites and detractors of Israel fodder for their abhorrent and hostile views.
"Once again, we call on Rabbi Yosef, as a religious authority with political influence, to refrain from such language and instead speak - as he has so eloquently in the past - of the pursuit of peace and respect for all people created in God's image."
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said he did not know specifically about the rabbi's comments but that remarks like those did not "help the situation."