On Saturday, the spiritual leader of the right-wing Israeli ‘Shas’ movement, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, made a speech to followers in which he compared non-Jews to donkeys, and said that they were put on earth only to serve Jews.Yosef said, ‘Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.” He continued saying, ‘Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.’

He added, “With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant… That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew.”

Although the Shas movement is considered an extreme right-wing group, it is part of the coalition government currently in charge of the Israeli government, and many of its members are in key decision-making positions in the current government.

Rabbi Yosef has made many such controversial speeches in the past. Although, right-wing Zionists say he was an inspiration for their attacks against Palestinians, Yosef has never been charged with incitement by Israeli authorities.

The reference to non-Jews as subhuman or like animals is common in extreme right Orthodox interpretations of Judaism. In addition to the Shas movement, which is a leading movement among Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the Chabad movement also adheres to this idea.

Abraham Kook, a theologian of the Israeli settler movement who has a religious college in Jerusalem named for him, has stated that “The difference between a Jewish soul and souls of non-Jews — all of them in all different levels — is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

Although the comments made by Rabbi Yosef on Saturday were criticized by several groups, including the US-based Anti-Defamation League, the Israeli government has made no effort to distance itself from the position taken by its former Chief Rabbi.