High Court rejects petition barring Eliyahu from chief rabbi election

Petition filer, MK Esawi Frej, says the decision is not final, and there is a possibility to refile should Eliyahu win the election.

Eliyahu 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eliyahu 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a petition to disqualify Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from Wednesday’s Chief Rabbinate elections on accusations of alleged racist incitement against the Arab community.
According to the High Court, the decision is not necessarily a final determination on the issue and was reached only since there is not enough time to weigh such a serious matter before the election. If Eliyahu is elected, there is a possibility that the petition may be refiled after the elections.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej, who filed the petition, responded that he respected the court’s decision, but he would resubmit his petition if Eliyahu wins the race. He also said he would submit a bill that would prevent people who have taken actions deemed racist from running for office.
“What is important is that [the petition] was only rejected for technical reasons due to a shortage of time,” Frej said. “The judges emphasized that they were not rejecting it on principle and that we can raise our allegations again. It is now up to the electorate in the chief rabbi race to make a decision that will defend Israel’s ethical image. I hope the electorate listens to the attorney-general, who clearly decided Eliyahu is unfit for the post.”
Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group, criticized the decision, saying that Eliyahu escaped disqualification from running by the skin of his teeth.
“There should be no room in the Chief Rabbinate, which purports to represent Israel, for a man who interprets Judaism in a racist manner,” Regev said.
Eliyahu’s campaign welcomed the decision and expressed optimism that he would win the race.
“We hope a rabbinate will be chosen that is welcoming, embracing, and able to connect the sectors of the population,” the Eliyahu campaign said.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said last week that Eliyahu should not be allowed to run because of his racist incitement allegations against Israeli Arabs, but his opinion was non-binding due to the separation of the Chief Rabbinate from the government.
Lawyers for Eliyahu and Frej went head to head before the High Court of Justice on Monday morning over the petition, which was only filed last week.
Frej’s lawyer, Gabi Lasky, told the court at the Monday morning hearing “there cannot be any disagreement that one who incites racism” like Eliyahu “cannot stand behind the shield of freedom of speech.”
“He who said these harmful words about a large population, words against Arabs and gays especially, cannot claim free speech as a shield,” Lasky stated.
Eliyahu’s lawyer said the rabbi’s statements were taken out of context and that he was “willing to accept any person as they are.”
He added that Eliyahu’s main problem was with “enemies” of the State of Israel and that the real debate to have was defining who are those enemies. He also said that the petition was premature and that a candidate could not be disqualified before he was even elected.
Lasky, however, rejected the premature argument, stating that “if we say today to everyone [that Eliyahu] is fit to be a candidate for chief rabbi of Israel, if he is then elected, how will we be able to say that he is unfit retrospectively?” Also on Monday, Ashkenazi chief rabbi candidate Eliezer Igra dropped out of the race.
Igra is a religious court judge and the rabbi of Kfar Maimon, a community in southern Israel.
He is considered close to the settler movement.
His departure from the race is likely to aid Tzohar founder Rabbi David Stav in his race against Modi’in Chief Rabbi David Lau.