Court rules Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu must have disciplinary trial

Apparently racist and political comments made by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu are not permitted for public official, and Chief Rabbinate must hold disciplinary trial for him.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu must be put on disciplinary trial by the Chief Rabbinate the High Court of Justice ruled on Monday, due to racist and political comments he has made in recent years which are prohibited for public officials.
Eliyahu has frequently been the target of legal attempts to have him indicted or penalized for his frequent controversial and radical comments, and was indicted in 2006 for racial incitement, although the indictment was retracted when he apologized and pledged not to repeat such statements.
The three-member panel of High Court justices determined in their ruling on Monday that the Chief Rabbinate’s decision not to put Eliyahu on disciplinary trial was flawed and “extremely unreasonable,” in light of the public comments the rabbi has made.
The judges pointed to comments by Eliyahu amounting to incitement against particular population sectors, political activism, and fierce criticism against government authorities, as activities and speech not protected under freedom of expression laws for public officials.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White Party now needs to request that Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef form a disciplinary panel for Eliyahu.
Yosef needs to form that panel, consisting of a rabbinical court judge or emeritus judge and two municipal chief rabbis, within 30 days. The panel can record a note in Eliyahu’s file, issue him with a warning, reprimand him or dismiss him from his position.
One of Eliyahu’s comments highlighted by the judges in their ruling involved the rabbi’s call on citizens, police and IDF personnel to kill anyone who tries to kill a Jew, and not to try and restrain or capture them.
“Anyone who raises a hand to a Jew needs to be killed… We need to have a law so that it is clear to everyone including murderers, that a terrorist who comes to kill Jews – that is their end. It is an obligation and religious commandment on soldiers, police officers and citizens to finish them. Not to disable them, not to restrain them, but to remove them from the world,” wrote Eliyahu on Facebook.
In other comments, Eliyahu said Arabs are “the most exploitative nation,” and that “this people hates peace,” in the context of the rights of Arabs to pray on the Temple Mount.
He also said that “The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea. They have the same hatred for Jews wherever they see Jews they harm them,” following a recent antisemitic attack in Germany.
Of Eliyahu’s political statements, the court drew attention to his explicit backing for Rafi Peretz to head a joint religious-Zionist electoral slate ahead of the September election that year.
The rabbi also criticized the criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an effort to remove him from power “by those who have failed at the ballot box.”
And the court also highlighted severe verbal assaults by Eliyahu on institutions of the state, especially the prosecution and judicial systems.
In January 2019, Eliyahu gave a lesson at the Hesder Yeshiva in Safed where he discussed a conversation he held with yeshiva students in the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the Rehalim settlement during which he alleged that there the justice system was corrupt.
Eliyahu objected to indictments for murder handed down to suspects in the attack which killed Aisha Rabi, a Palestinian mother of nine in October 2018, when she was killed by a rock thrown at her car killed while driving.
“What happened, why are they indicting you? You threw a stone? Do you know how many stone throwing [incidents] there are in Judea and Samaria [by Palestinians] which the army does nothing about? Stone throwing is attempted murder? What attempted murder? Where are all the Arabs who throw stones. Why is that not attempted murder?” said Eliyahu.
“This is a corrupt system… This [judge] appoints his friends, and it is known that a friend brings along another friend [into the judicial system]. It is a totally rotten system.”
Eliyahu was indicted in 2006 for racial incitement for comments he made to the media, but the charges were eventually dropped in return for the rabbi apologizing for his comments, and pledging not make similar statements in the future.
Eliyahu subsequently issued calls in 2010 not to rent or sell property to non-Jews in Safed or anywhere else in Israel, basing his position on Jewish law, but the State Attorney’s Office eventually decided not to prosecute him again, ruling that his comments were protected under freedom of expression laws and that an individual could not be prosecuted for statements regarding religious law.
“The court underlined today that the State of Israel cannot allow rabbis to exploit their public offices in order to continually and persistently incite to racism and discrimination of Israeli Arab citizens, and that the government of Israel is not permitted to close its eyes in the face of ongoing violations of the law by rabbis,” said director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv.
The Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Committee was one of the parties to the High Court petition against Eliyahu, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Tag Meir, and the Campaign for the Struggle Against Racism in Israel.
Senior MK of the religious-Zionist Yamina Party Bezalel Smotrich condemned the ruling, saying that in a “just world” the High Court justices should be put on disciplinary trial for “political distortions of Israeli law,” and said that the court’s ruling was an effort to silence Eliyahu and other rabbis.
“They are silencing and threatening rabbis, they are silencing the right-wing, and they are silencing anyone who threatens their hegemony. The day is not far away when they will silence elected officials who are not on the correct political side,” fumed Smotrich, who said he admired Eliyahu for his “courage, independence, his truth.”