(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) has written the Attorney-General’s Office asking that the
chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, be disqualified from running for the
position of Sephardi chief rabbi due to what the MK described as Eliyahu’s
record of “preaching racism.”
Eliyahu, who is weighing whether to run for
the position, is supported by elements within the Bayit Yehudi party,
particularly Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan.
Safed chief rabbi, a conservative figure in the national-religious movement, has
a history of antagonistic remarks made toward the country’s Arabs.
Eliyahu utilizes his public position to incite against a minority in the State
of Israel that constitutes a fifth of the population,” Cabel said in his letter
to the attorney-general.
Various proposals have been floated of late
whereby Eliyahu would retract some of his most controversial statements, but
Cabel said this would not be enough.
“The damage his comments have done
will not be repaired by any kind of apology.
The rift he has caused
between Judaism and the Arab community cannot be stitched back together with
sweet talk like this,” he said.
However, there seems little that the
attorney-general can do to address Cabel’s concerns, as there are no formal
legal tools to disqualify Eliyahu from the Chief Rabbinate
Cabel’s office said that he is weighing whether to introduce
legislation to address the situation.
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 between 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
Eliyahu’s chances for election been given a boost of late due
to divisions within Shas over whom to nominate as the party’s candidate for the
Sephardi chief rabbi position.
Not only is there division within the
political party and among the close circle surrounding Shas spiritual leader
Ovadia Yosef, but outgoing Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar is strongly backing
a candidate of his own, senior rabbinical judge Rabbi Tzion Boaron.
was hoping to run for reelection but was prevented from doing so by Shas
chairman Arye Deri who pulled party support for legislation that would allow a
sitting chief rabbi to run again.
As a result of these developments,
Amar, who has significant sway on the electoral committee for the chief rabbis,
has been advancing Boaron’s candidacy.