Rabbi Ovadia Yosefs grandson accused of stockpiling weapons

JERUSALEM — The grandson of Shas Party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was under house arrest this week. He is accused of stockpiling weapons for a right-wing organization that attacks Arabs.

However, Judge Ruth Lorch of the Petach Tikvah Magistrate's Court turned down a police request to jail Yonatan Yosef at a Feb. 10 hearing.

Yonatan Yosef, 20, denied that he was dealing in weapons or was a Kach activist.

"I didn't sell weapons. I didn't collect weapons. I'm not a terrorist," Yosef told reporters. "I wasn't in any anti-Arab organization…to the contrary, I have Arab friends…I'm not an activist in Kach. I'm an activist in Shas."

Police provided Lorch with classified information to back up their allegations, while Yosef's lawyer asked that he be released.

On Feb. 10, police also arrested a 16-year-old friend of Yosef on suspicion he is involved in an extreme-right-wing organization. A search of the youth's Jerusalem home turned up a large amount of ammunition.

A soldier in the Israel Defense Force's unit of fervently religious Jews was arrested earlier last week on suspicion he helped Yosef obtain the weapons.

Israel police and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency assert that Yosef received the weapons from a soldier in that unit.

Police searched Yosef's dormitory apartment on Jerusalem's Rehov Shmuel Hanavi on Feb. 9, but did not find any weapons. The apartment is located in a dormitory of the anti-Arab Jewish Idea Yeshiva associated with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who founded the outlawed Kach movement.

While Yosef is not listed as a student in the yeshiva, one of his friends said he regularly studies there. However, the friend added, Yosef "couldn't kill a fly."

Reportedly the authorities had been following Yosef for some time after he was seen distributing fliers about the anti-Arab group.

"The police is relying on hearsay and theories," Yosef said in court last week. "Everything I'm accused of is exaggerated. Everything's a lie, a complete lie."

Yosef's lawyer, Naftali Werzberger, who has previously defended Kach members, said it is possible Yosef scrawled graffiti and "passed out notes" about the group, but not more than that. The fact that his client "was arrested in bed and taken to police in his pajamas is characteristic of police in the Third World," Werzberger said. He claimed the arrest was politically motivated.

Shin Bet agents met last week with Ovadia Yosef at his Jerusalem home to inform him of the impending arrest.

"The rabbi heard of the matter with great pain and hopes that, God willing, the investigation of his grandson will prove there has been a mistake," was the only statement made by Shas spokesman Yitzhak Sudry.

Because of the sensitive nature of the issue, Sudry has been made sole liaison for the family. His sister, Yehudit, is married to Ovadia Yosef's son, Moshe.

The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on why Shin Bet gave special treatment to this case by informing a relative in advance about the arrest.

Yonatan Yosef's father, Ya'acov Yosef, is a former Knesset member whose extreme views on Arabs led to tensions with his father, Ovadia Yosef, who has called for territorial concessions. Ya'acov Yosef failed to achieve Shas leadership last year when his father picked Eli Yishai instead.

Extreme right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said that Yonatan, however, has a close relationship with his grandfather and often comes to Ovadia Yosef's house for morning prayers.