The Attorney-General’s Office announced on Tuesday night that if Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu formally declares his intention to run for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, he will be invited to a hearing with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to explain derogatory comments the rabbi made about the country’s Arab minority.

Several appeals have been made of late to the attorney general asking him to prohibit Eliyahu from running because of what are considered racist statements he made in the past.

Eliyahu has received the backing of Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben- Dahan as well as other members of the conservative wing of the Bayit Yehudi party.

“Following requests that have reached the attorney general regarding the candidacy of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for the position of chief rabbi, it has been decided that when the issue becomes relevant the rabbi will be afforded a hearing on this matter,” the Attorney-General’s Office said.

Last week, MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) wrote to the attorney general asking that Eliyahu be disqualified from running for the position.

In addition, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has called on Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to take disciplinary action against Eliyahu for his comments.

ACRI cited several comments made by the rabbi about the Arab community, including saying “Agricultural theft by Arabs is an ideology,” “A Jew must chase away Arabs” and “Expulsion of Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy.”

Livni said on Tuesday that she was examining the possibility of opening up disciplinary procedures against Eliyahu and that she had requested the opinion of the attorney-general about whether her office has the authority to initiated such a process.

“Rulings and statements supporting the discrimination on a nationalist basis and which have a whiff of racism could damage the delicate fabric of relations, and deepen the hatred and internal rift, between us and the Arab citizens of Israel,” Livni said.

Meretz MK Esawi Frej welcomed the attorney-general’s announcement, and noted that he had asked Weinstein two months ago to prohibit Eliyahu from running.

“It’s embarrassing enough for the State of Israel that a dark racist, homophobe who hates Arabs serves in an official position as chief rabbi of Safed. I hope that this hearing will be the final chapter in the illegitimate candidacy of “Rabbi” Eliyahu for senior office,” Frej said in a statement to the press.

In 2006, Eliyahu was indicted for racial incitement for comments he made in 2002 and 2004. The charge was conditionally dropped when the rabbi apologized for his comments, retracted them and pledged not make similar comments in the future.

In 2004, Eliyahu was quoted in local newspaper Kol Ha’emek V’hagalil as saying that a college for Arabs should be created so that only Jews could attend Safed Academic College, to prevent intermingling by young Arabs and Jews.

And in December 2010, the rabbi initiated an open letter, signed by 50 prominent rabbis, arguing that Jewish law prohibits selling or renting property to non-Jews.

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