High Court to decide on barring Eliyahu from chief rabbi election

Potential future of Chief Rabbinate at stake as lawyers for Safed chief rabbi, Meretz MK Esawi Frej go head to head.

Eliyahu 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eliyahu 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The potential future of the Chief Rabbinate was at stake as lawyers for Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Meretz MK Esawi Frej went head to head  before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday following Frej's petition to disqualify Eliyahu from being able to participate in the Sephardi Chief Rabbi election.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein last week barred Eliyahu from running for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel because of derogatory statements he made in the past regarding the Arab community.
Frej's lawyer, Gabi Lasky, said that "there cannot be any disagreement that one who incites racism" like Rabbi Eliyahu "cannot stand behind the shield of freedom of speech."
She implied that someone who has made racist statements is not a fit candidate to lead Israel's religious community.
"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 that the Safed Rabbi's alleged incitement to racism were statements 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.
Eliyahu has previously written that he did not make many of the remarks attributed to him and that some were distorted by others.
“Some were never said by me, and some were said in contexts that were radicalized and presented out of the Torah context in which they were said,” Eliyahu wrote.
Essentially, Eliyahu argued that until he was elected, the court had no place intervening, as if he lost the election then the court's intervention would have been pointless.
Lasky, however, rejected the premature argument, stating that "if we say today to everyone [that Rabbi 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?"
"The actions are the same actions, so only if you are elected to the position, you become unfit?" she asked rhetorically.
There was key disagreement on whether legally the question of disqualifying Eliyahu from running for Chief Rabbi was similar to a request to disqualify someone from running for Knesset or was part of a different and unique legal area.
Lasky said that there is no right to be a candidate for Chief Rabbi in Israel, unlike potential arguments for such a right for running for Knesset.
The court is expected to make a relatively quick decision with less than two full days left before the election.