The US government has revoked the visa of one of religious Zionism’s most senior rabbis, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, according to a report by Israel Hayom. A US Embassy spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that “visa records are confidential under US law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases.”
In an interview to Army Radio on Tuesday, Rabbi Eliyahu said that he thinks his visa was revoked for criticizing Reform Jews or because of his extreme views on Arabs.
Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed and a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. heads Iggud Rabanei Kehilot which includes more than 300 rabbis and communities.
In 2015, Eliyahu led an investigation of allegations of sexual abuse by Safed rabbi Ezra Sheinberg against 14 women who came to him for therapy.
Eliyahu approached the police and in 2018 Sheinberg was given a seven year prison sentence. Eliyahu assisted sexually abused victims of haredi children’s author Chaim Walder after an exposé in Haaretz. Eliyahu, who headed a rabbinical court, encouraged Walder’s victims to testify.
The Post has learned that Eliyahu’s visa was revoked about a year ago. A source close to Eliyahu told the Post that the rabbi was summoned to the US embassy, without a stated reason.
“He was asked to give an embassy employee his passport and then they took out the American visa and returned the passport to the Rabbi,” the source said. According to the source, Eliyahu and his staff were “shocked” by the disrespectful way that this was done.
The embassy later sent Eliyahu the following email, obtained by the Post: “The US consular officer has adjudicated and refused your visa application. Please follow instructions provided by the consular officer. Your case was refused for administrative processing and will remain refused under section 221(g) of the Immigration Nationality Act while undergoing such processing.”
Why was his visa taken?
Eliyahu’s office responded to Israel Hayom and said “despite contacting the American consulate, we have not received any explanation for the reason his visa, which was valid for decades, has been revoked. Our attempts to clarify have revealed that it was the act of anti-Zionists such as the Reform movement, that frequently try to attack freedom of speech and silence rabbis.
“After failing to silence Rabbi Eliyahu through legal means, they are now trying to shut him up through various petty tactics. There is no reason to worry – they won’t succeed.”
Eliyahu received a few invitations from American Jewish communities, mainly regarding his involvements of combating sexual abuse in Orthodox communities.
President of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Rabbi Rick Jacobs responded to Eliyahu’s allegations “Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is well known for his racist views which most Jews and supporters of Israel find offensive and which the Israeli Supreme Court strongly condemned. As a purveyor of hatred towards Arabs, non-orthodox Jews, LGBTQ and others, his views sully the strong moral case we regularly make on behalf of the State of Israel. Our Israeli Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has led and will continue to lead the legal fight against his regular incitement of racism.
We were not involved in the decision to deny him a visa but if the rabbi is upset he should undertake a thorough cheshbon hanefesh, an honest assessment of his deeds, which is surely the reason he’s not a welcome figure across the Jewish and democratic world.Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ)
The Israeli Reform movement also responded: “Rabbi Eliyahu should internalize that there are consequences to the serious racist incitement he is making, such as a ban on entering the United States. The Reform movement will continue to fight against incitement to racism because racism is not our Judaism.”