(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided on Tuesday to open a criminal
investigation against Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, on suspicion
of incitement to racism.
The investigation will be based on a number of
statements Eliyahu made in reference to the Israeli-Arab community which were
publicized by the media.
The probe will not, however, include halachic
rulings made by the rabbi that were also allegedly of a racist
Specifically, the investigation will not cover the “rabbis’
letter” of December 2010, which 50 rabbis, including Eliyahu, signed.
rabbis issued a ruling in the letter that it was forbidden, according to Jewish law, to rent or sell property to non-Jews.
has allegedly made numerous other comments of a racist nature. According to the
attorney-general’s office, he has allegedly stated that “Arab culture is very
cruel,” “Jews do not need to run away from the Arabs. A Jew must chase out
Arabs,” and “expulsion of Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the
Following the submission of numerous complaints about
Eliyahu’s public statements relating to the Arab community, the attorney-general
decided to open an investigation into the rabbi on suspicion of criminal
incitement to racism.
In response, Eliyahu’s office said that the rabbi
“welcomed” the attorney-general’s announcement that there would be no
investigation into the letter, and his “principled stance against intervening in
“The rabbi is certain that an investigation regarding
his various public statements will allow [him] to clarify his position clearly
and unequivocally which is that the state must act against parts of the Arab
population who support terror, and not against the entire Arab
“The rabbi hopes that the day will come when there is real
equality before the law, especially in the field of freedom of expression of
spiritual leaders, without discrimination between the right or left.”
Avishai Braverman praised the decision to open an investigation into Eliyahu,
stating that he had requested such an investigation from the attorney-general’s
office a year ago, as minister for Minority Affairs.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, coexecutive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, also
welcomed the investigation, but called the failure to address the rabbis’ letter
“The decision not to investigate the rabbis’ letter
implies that when a racist says and does racist things, he can justify it under
the guise of ‘psak halacha,’” – issuing a legal ruling – Be’eri-Sulitzeanu told
The Jerusalem Post. “Failure to investigate the letter basically says that this
is kosher, and we can’t accept this stance. We hope that the decision will be
reviewed, but if not, we will have to weigh whether or not to appeal to the
Figures on the political right were, however, angered by
the news of the investigation.
National Union Chairman Ya’acov Katz
called on the religious- Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar to “stand up as one man
and take the side of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu similar to how they have carried the
battle flag against the establishment for the freedom and independence of
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said that the announcement
amounted to the persecution of Judaism.
“In mosques they continue to sing
the praises of terror and in universities they continue to call for racist
boycotts on Israel,” he said.
The Justice Ministry stated that in 2006
Eliyahu had agreed to comply with a number of directives from the Ministry in
return for the retraction of an indictment against him for incitement to racism
charges, regarding comments he had made about the Arab community. Eliyahu agreed
to retract the statements attributed to him and apologized to those offended by
his words, after which the state retracted the indictment.
In the matter
of the rabbis’ letter, Weinstein said he decided not to launch a criminal
investigation into it because it would be difficult to prove that the ruling was
issued with the intent to incite racism, as required by law. He also stated that
the protection granted by Article 144 c (b) of the Penal Code regarding
quotation from scripture and religious works would likely protect rabbis from
prosecution regarding any halachic ruling.