Meretz MK Esawi Frej filed on Tuesday an emergency petition with the High Court
to disqualify Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from running for Sephardi chief
rabbi due to alleged incitement against Arabs.
“Especially on the Ninth
of Av, a day of mourning for the Jewish nation, it is important to prevent
people from disseminating hate toward others from receiving recognition and
honor,” Frej said. “Election of a racist like Eliyahu to the position would be
the start of the destruction of values in the State of Israel,” referring to the
Jewish tradition that the Second Temple was destroyed on the Ninth of Av because
of baseless hatred among Jews.
The petition asked for an expedited
hearing and ruling for the court to decide the issue before the July 24
Hours later, the court scheduled an expedited hearing for July
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 to make similar
comments in the future.
He has been quoted in the past as 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
In 2004, local newspaper Kol Ha’emek V’hagalil quoted Eliyahu
as saying a college for Arabs should be created so that only Jews could attend
Safed Academic College, to prevent intermingling by young Arabs and
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.
On Monday, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein
recommended to Eliyahu that he drop out of the race, stating that his running,
in light of his statements and actions regarding Israeli Arabs, presented legal
Weinstein took this position even after Eliyahu provided a
written explanation of each incident. Although Weinstein cannot disqualify
Eliyahu, his position means the state will not defend Eliyahu in the petition to
the High Court.
Eliyahu insists that he is still running for election.
The rabbi has considerable backing on the electoral committee although it is
unclear how Weinstein’s comments will affect its members in the event that legal
appeals to the High Court are unsuccessful.
“He is running and he will
win, God willing,” an associate of the rabbi said on Tuesday.
Eliyahu denounced the attorney-general’s statement, accusing him of “trampling
on democracy” and failing to act in a similar manner toward other public figures
who have made controversial comments, such as Balad MK Haneen Zoabi and Islamic
Movement leader Raed Salah.
Were the High Court to bar Eliyahu from
running, Rabbi Tzion Boaron would be the candidate most likely to benefit with
regards to support on the electoral committee.
Eliyahu is supported by
the national-religious Bayit Yehudi party and Boaron’s moderate outlook on
Jewish law is likely to attract committee members who would have otherwise voted
The other main candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi is Shas’s
pick Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, but he would be less likely to pick up votes from the
those on the committee inclined to vote for the national-religious
Earlier on Tuesday, Frej said, “Also the Bayit Yehudi party,
which tries to present itself as moderate and which can also appeal to secular
voters, revealed its true face when it runs a man like Eliyahu.”
complimented Weinstein for opposing Eliyahu’s candidacy, but also slammed him
for waiting three months after Frej asked him to get involved, and failing to
take a position “until the 90th minute to say what was obvious.”
petition Frej filed said the court should disqualify Eliyahu on the legal
grounds that having someone who incites racism in such a public position would
harm the rule of law in Israel and empower private persons and other public
sector figures to harm the rights of the Israeli-Arab sector with
It cited case law where the court declared that the
government could not function without upholding certain basic values, such as
The petition also quoted the first chief rabbi,
Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Cook, as saying the chief rabbi must represent both all
Jews and “the entire public,” meaning non-Jewish citizens, such as Israeli