A response to Emunah Elon

Are there those who support the rabbinic letter barring the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews in Israel? And if so, what do they say?

Author Emunah Elon, writing in the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom on December 14, has made the argument for those who approve of the letter. While she admits that it may not be pleasant to refuse to rent to an Arab who seeks housing for his family, she insists that the intention of the rabbis was noble: to preserve by their actions the Jewish character of the Jewish state.


According to Elon, even if Judea and Samaria are not annexed, Israel will turn into a bi-national state within the ’67 borders. If it is permissible to erect a wall between Jews and Arabs in Samaria, she writes, it must also be permissible to erect a wall between Jews and Arabs in Lod. A fundamental premise of her argument is that western values and western models do not apply in Israel or the Middle East. English Jews are a minority and are not attempting to seize control of Great Britain; Arabs, however, are part of an overwhelming Arab majority in the Middle East, and their intention is to drive the Jews out. The answer, in her view, must ultimately be not a rabbinic letter but legislative action by the Knesset that will redefine “democracy” in a way that will assure that Haifa, Safed and Tel Aviv will remain Jewish.


Elon claims that critics of the letter have yet to offer any solutions of their own. Some thoughts for her:


There is no reason to expect that a state within adjusted ’67 borders will become a bi-national state. Such a state would have a Jewish majority of approximately 80 percent, a stable majority by any standard. And the best way to encourage a lower birthrate of Israeli Arabs would be to increase services to this population, improve their living standards and lower their unemployment rate. 


Assuring the Jewish character of Israel requires remaining faithful to Jewish values. The Torah’s position on minorities is clearly stated in Numbers 9:14: “There shall be one law for you, for the stranger as for the citizen.” As leading rabbinic authorities throughout the world have affirmed, the letter constitutes a repudiation of Torah law and an affront to Torah principles. 


“Democracy” is not a relative term that can be redefined at will. While certain variations in practice are inevitable, democracy always means equal rights before the law for all citizens of a state. To change that will not mean “redefining” democracy; it will mean abolishing it. And an Israel without democracy could not retain the loyalty of her own citizens, let alone the support of the United States, upon whom Israel is dependent for her very survival. In addition, of course, a non-democratic Israel is contrary to the teachings of every major Zionist thinker, whether on the right or the left.


I am grateful to Ms. Elon for making the case for the rabbinic letter in an honest and straightforward way - even though it is a case that is both morally repugnant and politically disastrous. I do not know how many Israelis in the settler and religious communities accept her argument; it is more, I fear, than some of us want to admit. Nonetheless, I am thankful that Israel’s leaders - including Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Lichtenstein - have recognized and proclaimed the profound dangers of proceeding down this path.