The spiritual leader of Israel’s Shas party denounced upcoming talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and wished for the death of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
Ovadia Yosef, a former Israeli chief rabbi, called Palestinians "evil, bitter enemies of Israel" during his weekly sermon on Saturday.
"Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world," he said, using Abbas' common nickname. "God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."
Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the PA, said Yosef's remarks were tantamount to a call for "genocide against Palestinians".
The 89-year-old Yosef is a respected scholar among Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent.
He has made similarly offensive comments before: He has referred to Arabs as "vipers," and in a 2001 sermon during the Jewish holiday of Passover, he called for Israel to "annihilate" Arabs.
"It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them," he said. "They are evil and damnable."
Yosef's provocations are not limited to Arabs, either: In 2005, he blamed Hurricane Katrina on the "godlessness" of New Orleans, and on former US president George Bush's support for Israel's disengagement from Gaza. And last year, he criticised women who pray at the Western Wall as "stupid".
'An insult' to talks
Erekat also called Yosef's comments "an insult to all our efforts to advance the negotiations process".
Abbas is scheduled to meet this week with Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, for their first direct negotiations in more than 18 months. Both men will attend a dinner in Washington on Wednesday hosted by US president Barack Obama, and then will meet on Thursday for talks.
Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that other PA officials were dismissive of Yosef's remarks.
Netanyahu's office issued a short statement distancing the Israeli premier from Yosef's remarks.
"These comments do not reflect prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu or the Israeli government's stance," the statement said. "Israel is engaging in negotiations out of a desire to reach an agreement with the Palestinians."
Yosef is the spiritual adviser of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which holds 11 seats in the Israeli Knesset. Eli Yishai, the head of the party, is the current interior minister.
Yishai said on Wednesday that he would not support an extension of Netanyahu's 10-month West Bank settlement freeze, which is due to expire on September 26. Shas party officials said earlier this month that Yishai would do "everything possible" to persuade Netanyahu not to extend the freeze.