Peres criticizes petition banning sale of land to non-Jews

Tibi calls 47 state-employed rabbis skinheads for signing petition banning rental of apartments to non-Jews; ADL also condemns rabbis' letter.

December 8, 2010 17:57
3 minute read.
President Shimon Peres

Peres speaking 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

President Shimon Peres on Wednesday issued a sharp rebuke against those rabbis who published an edict forbidding the rental or sale of housing to Arabs.

In a strongly worded statement Peres said that the rabbis are generating a moral crisis that runs counter to the essence of a Jewish and democratic state, and are thereby doing great harm to the State of Israel.

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Peres added that he sees no contradiction between democracy and Judaism. "All people are created in the image of God" he said, emphasizing that this is a fundamental principle in both Judaism and democracy.

Jewish and non-Jewish citizens live in Israel, he continued, and all have the same rights, including the right to be different, and to practice a different religion.

These rights are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in legislation enacted by the Knesset that determined the character, the nature and the preferences of the State of Israel.

Peres called on the nation to preserve these true values of democracy, Judaism and equality, "because these are the issues that affect our lives."

In his speeches in Israel and abroad, Peres has frequently referred to minority rights in Israel and has declared many times that the non-Jewish population is entitled to the same educational work and housing opportunities as the Jewish population.

He is also convinced that tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish sectors of the population would abate if all sectors were given equal opportunities to improve the quality of their lives.

Also on Wednesday, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) denigrated the rabbis who signed the anti-Arab petition as neo-Nazis.

"I am confident that the number of [such] rabbis will only increase," said Tibi.  He continued, "We are dealing with skinhead rabbis who are working against the Arabs."

Outside Israel on Wednesday, the ADL condemned the rabbis' petition.

"It is outrageous and unacceptable that rabbis across Israel are promoting blatant discrimination against non-Jews," the advocacy group said in a statement. "The State of Israel was established in the wake of the most horrific expression of hatred to be a Jewish and democratic state."

"It is extremely disturbing to hear religious leaders – who are supposed to represent and uphold Jewish values – promote such a prejudicial course for Israeli society. That many of these rabbis are state employees makes their action that much more troubling," the statement added.

The ADL also thanked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his condemnation of calls not to rent apartments to non-Jews. The prime minister had said Tuesday that the Torah teaches us to “love the stranger.” He made the comment at the start of the National Bible Contest for Adults in Jerusalem, saying that non-Jews are also citizens of the country.

“How would we feel if someone said not to sell apartments to Jews?,” the prime minister said. “We would protest, and we do protest when it is said among our neighbors. It is forbidden that such things are said about Jews or Arabs.”

Netanyahu said such calls were forbidden in a democratic state, “especially in a Jewish democratic state that respects Jewish tradition and the Bible.” Israel, he said, “completely rejects” this call.

The rabbis' letter begins, “In response to many people’s questions, we hereby reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or a field in the Land of Israel to a gentile,” before proceeding to quote Maimonides, the Shulhan Aruch and other sources. The letter notes the danger of intermarriage, the potential damage to the religious beliefs of Jewish neighbors who might be influenced by non-Jews, and the damage to the value of real estate in the area.

Jonah Mandel, Ben Hartman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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