(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a petition to disqualify Safed
Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from Wednesday’s Chief Rabbinate elections on
accusations of alleged racist incitement against the Arab
According to the High Court, the decision is not necessarily a
final determination on the issue and was reached only since there is not enough
time to weigh such a serious matter before the election. If Eliyahu is elected,
there is a possibility that the petition may be refiled after the
Meretz MK Esawi Frej, who filed the petition, responded that
he respected the court’s decision, but he would resubmit his petition if Eliyahu
wins the race. He also said he would submit a bill that would prevent people who
have taken actions deemed racist from running for office.
important is that [the petition] was only rejected for technical reasons due to
a shortage of time,” Frej said. “The judges emphasized that they were not
rejecting it on principle and that we can raise our allegations again. It is now
up to the electorate in the chief rabbi race to make a decision that will defend
Israel’s ethical image. I hope the electorate listens to the attorney-general,
who clearly decided Eliyahu is unfit for the post.”
Rabbi Uri Regev,
director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group, criticized the
decision, saying that Eliyahu escaped disqualification from running by the skin
of his teeth.
“There should be no room in the Chief Rabbinate, which
purports to represent Israel, for a man who interprets Judaism in a racist
manner,” Regev said.
Eliyahu’s campaign welcomed the decision and
expressed optimism that he would win the race.
“We hope a rabbinate will
be chosen that is welcoming, embracing, and able to connect the sectors of the
population,” the Eliyahu campaign said.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein
said last week that Eliyahu should not be allowed to run because of his racist
incitement allegations against Israeli Arabs, but his opinion was non-binding
due to the separation of the Chief Rabbinate from the government.
for Eliyahu and Frej went head to head before the High Court of Justice on
Monday morning over the petition, which was only filed last week.
lawyer, Gabi Lasky, told the court at the Monday morning hearing “there cannot
be any disagreement that one who incites racism” like Eliyahu “cannot stand
behind the shield of freedom of speech.”
“He who said these harmful words
about a large population, words against Arabs and gays especially, cannot claim
free speech as a shield,” Lasky stated.
Eliyahu’s lawyer said the rabbi’s
statements were taken out of context and that he was “willing to accept any
person as they are.”
He added that Eliyahu’s main problem was with
“enemies” of the State of Israel and that the real debate to have was defining
who are those enemies. He also said that the petition was premature and that a
candidate could not be disqualified before he was even elected.
however, rejected the premature argument, stating that “if we say today to
everyone [that Eliyahu] is fit to be a candidate for chief rabbi of Israel, if
he is then elected, how will we be able to say that he is unfit
retrospectively?” Also on Monday, Ashkenazi chief rabbi candidate Eliezer Igra
dropped out of the race.
Igra is a religious court judge and the rabbi of
Kfar Maimon, a community in southern Israel.
He is considered close to
the settler movement.
His departure from the race is likely to aid Tzohar
founder Rabbi David Stav in his race against Modi’in Chief Rabbi David Lau.
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