Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman on Wednesday called on Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman to immediately suspend Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for his ruling banning the renting or sale of Jewish-owned apartments to Arabs in the northern city, Radio Israel reported.

Rabbi Eliyahu has abused his position to engage in a racist campaign against Arabs in contradiction of the peaceful spirit of Judaism, Braveman told Ne'eman in a letter he wrote.  He added, the incitement against Arabs harms the social fabric in the Galilee region and Arab-Jewish relations in the area and does not advance the state interests that a municipal rabbi should serve.

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Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman called on Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on Wednesday to suspend Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu immediately and begin the process of removing him from office for ongoing racial incitement against the city’s Arab residents, following a recent adjudication by Eliyahu and other rabbis prohibiting renting out apartments to non-Jews.

In response, Eliyahu charged Braverman with “hypocrisy,” as the minister belongs to a movement and government that espouse Judaizing the Galilee and “redeeming the land” for Jews.

In a letter Wednesday morning, Braverman noted the “extremist remarks and deeds” of Eliyahu, “who for years is racially inciting against Arabs” through the media, and “is exploiting his position as Safed’s rabbi to issue adjudications against people who wish to rent apartments to Arabs, thus harming the fabric of the relations between Jews and Arabs in the Galilee.”

Stressing that Eliyahu’s actions did not constitute a legitimate expression of opinion, Braverman also noted that the rabbi was filling an official position, and his “ongoing incitement...

does not serve the needs of the state.”

Braverman added in a statement Wednesday that it was his ministerial duty to “reduce the tensions between Jews and Arabs.

Half of the population in the Galilee is Jewish and half Arab, and the good relations between [them] are the cornerstone for a joint existence.”

He noted that Eliyahu’s conduct could bring Jews and Arabs in the North to warfare, and said he would be visiting Safed next week to support students from both groups who learn together at the city’s college.

“I will also encourage Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat, and do what I can to help him in the wake of the publicly irresponsible conduct of the city’s rabbi,” he said.

Eliyahu, who is also a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, recently issued a controversial halachic adjudication against selling or renting apartments to Arabs in the city. He and fellow rabbis held a conference on the matter in October.

Recently, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and resident of the northern city was harassed and threatened for renting an apartment to Beduin students attending the Safed Academic College, presumably as a result of Eliyahu’s ruling.

Shohat said at the time that the city “respects every student, Jewish or Arab, who has chosen to study here.”

Responding to Braverman’s letter – which had been in the works but was released after a front-page interview with Eliyahu on the subject was published Wednesday in one of the Hebrew dailies – Eliyahu slammed the minister, saying that as a member of the government, Braverman endorsed the same values, as far as land ownership.

“The Labor Party founded the State of Israel bearing two banners, redemption of the lands and Jewish labor,” Eliyahu wrote. “Braverman is putting the legacy of the party, whose depleted remains he represents, to shame.”

Eliyahu contended that “the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which deals in redeeming lands for the Jewish state, wouldn’t have existed, either, if the Labor party had endorsed Braverman’s ways.

“Braverman should be reminded that he, too, is bound to the government’s decision, which with the justice minister’s approval endorsed the JNF’s regulations that prohibit selling lands or homes to a non- Jew,” he went on.

“Braverman should further be reminded that as a minister in the government he is bound to its decisions, including that of ‘Judaizing the Galilee,’ a resolution aimed at preserving the Jewish character of that region, as required from the Declaration of Independence of the ‘democratic Jewish’ state,” he said.

“If I ought to be fired, thousands of other rabbis who ruled in the same manner should be fired as well,” declared Eliyahu. “If I should be fired for issuing a ruling to prohibit selling apartments to non-Jews – all the government’s ministers should be fired for being signatories to the exact same ruling. Enough of this hypocrisy!”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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