MK files High Court petition to disqualify Rabbi Eliyahu from Chief Rabbi race

Esawi Frej cites allegations of racist comments, says electing Eliyahu would be "destruction of values in the State of Israel."

Meretz MK Esawi Freige 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Meretz)
Meretz MK Esawi Freige 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Meretz)
Meretz MK Esawi Frej filed on Tuesday an emergency petition with the High Court to disqualify Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from running for Sephardi chief rabbi due to alleged incitement against Arabs.
“Especially on the Ninth of Av, a day of mourning for the Jewish nation, it is important to prevent people from disseminating hate toward others from receiving recognition and honor,” Frej said. “Election of a racist like Eliyahu to the position would be the start of the destruction of values in the State of Israel,” referring to the Jewish tradition that the Second Temple was destroyed on the Ninth of Av because of baseless hatred among Jews.
The petition asked for an expedited hearing and ruling for the court to decide the issue before the July 24 election.
Hours later, the court scheduled an expedited hearing for July 22.
In 2006, Eliyahu was indicted for racial incitement for comments he made in 2002 and 2004. The charge was conditionally dropped when the rabbi apologized for his comments, retracted them and pledged not to make similar comments in the future.
He has been quoted in the past as saying, “Agricultural theft by Arabs is an ideology,” “A Jew must chase away Arabs” and “Expulsion of Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy.”
In 2004, local newspaper Kol Ha’emek V’hagalil quoted Eliyahu as saying a college for Arabs should be created so that only Jews could attend Safed Academic College, to prevent intermingling by young Arabs and Jews.
And in December 2010, the rabbi initiated an open letter, signed by 50 prominent rabbis, arguing that Jewish law prohibits selling or renting property to non-Jews.
On Monday, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein recommended to Eliyahu that he drop out of the race, stating that his running, in light of his statements and actions regarding Israeli Arabs, presented legal difficulties.
Weinstein took this position even after Eliyahu provided a written explanation of each incident. Although Weinstein cannot disqualify Eliyahu, his position means the state will not defend Eliyahu in the petition to the High Court.
Eliyahu insists that he is still running for election. The rabbi has considerable backing on the electoral committee although it is unclear how Weinstein’s comments will affect its members in the event that legal appeals to the High Court are unsuccessful.
“He is running and he will win, God willing,” an associate of the rabbi said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Eliyahu denounced the attorney-general’s statement, accusing him of “trampling on democracy” and failing to act in a similar manner toward other public figures who have made controversial comments, such as Balad MK Haneen Zoabi and Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah.
Were the High Court to bar Eliyahu from running, Rabbi Tzion Boaron would be the candidate most likely to benefit with regards to support on the electoral committee.
Eliyahu is supported by the national-religious Bayit Yehudi party and Boaron’s moderate outlook on Jewish law is likely to attract committee members who would have otherwise voted for Eliyahu.
The other main candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi is Shas’s pick Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, but he would be less likely to pick up votes from the those on the committee inclined to vote for the national-religious Eliyahu.
Earlier on Tuesday, Frej said, “Also the Bayit Yehudi party, which tries to present itself as moderate and which can also appeal to secular voters, revealed its true face when it runs a man like Eliyahu.”
Frej complimented Weinstein for opposing Eliyahu’s candidacy, but also slammed him for waiting three months after Frej asked him to get involved, and failing to take a position “until the 90th minute to say what was obvious.”
The petition Frej filed said the court should disqualify Eliyahu on the legal grounds that having someone who incites racism in such a public position would harm the rule of law in Israel and empower private persons and other public sector figures to harm the rights of the Israeli-Arab sector with incitement.
It cited case law where the court declared that the government could not function without upholding certain basic values, such as combatting racism.
The petition also quoted the first chief rabbi, Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Cook, as saying the chief rabbi must represent both all Jews and “the entire public,” meaning non-Jewish citizens, such as Israeli Arabs.