Police question Eliahu on anti-Arab posters from 2008

Attorneys for Safed’s chief rabbi say lack of proper warrant stands in way of recent petition over his role in rental letters.

Eliyahu 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eliyahu 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite his declared intention to the contrary, Safed’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu came to Jerusalem on Sunday for police questioning, the grounds being the suspicion of incitement to racism.
The short investigation, however, was not about the recent letter signed by Eliahu and other rabbis that prohibited selling and renting real estate to non-Jews in Israel. Rather, it was about announcements calling on the public not to employ Arabs, pasted on walls shortly after the terror attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in which eight students were murdered in March 2008.
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Eliahu told the police investigator on Sunday he neither penned nor signed those announcements. When asked by police how he could prove it, Eliahu pointed out the many Hebrew errors in the text.
“I’d never write or sign something like that,” he said.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post last month, three prominent Samaria rabbis were summoned for questioning by the Jerusalem Police, apparently for the same suspicions. Those rabbis – Elon Moreh Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, Rabbi David Dudkewitz of Yitzhar; and Rabbi Yehoshua Schmidt of Shavei Shomron – all refused to appear, saying the summons smacked of political intimidation.
In related news, Eliahu’s attorneys on Sunday handed the High Court of Justice their preliminary response to the petition filed by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which last month demanded of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to re-open the criminal procedures against Eliahu.
In 2005, an IRAC petition led to Eliahu being charged with incitement to racism, after the rabbi spoke out against Arabs on several occasions. However, the attorney-general dropped the charges after Eliahu apologized. IRAC demanded to hold Weinstein in contempt of the court for not honoring the agreement to renew the charges against Eliahu, which they say was part of the 2006 deal.
Eliahu’s lawyers, Dr. Aviad Hacohen and Dov Frimer, deny, first of all, that any such warrant for renewing the charges against Eliahu exists, and therefore there should be no claims against not honoring it.
Hacohen and Frimer further bring a variety of quotes from prominent public figures, such as former northern police chief Cmdr. (ret.) Alik Ron, who testified to the Or commission on the incitement of some imams against Jews, or Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who spoke out against individuals and even the court, noting that IRAC hadn’t filed petitions against them, which might prove that they are specifically seeking Eliahu’s head and not justice.
The attorneys also note the duty of a rabbi to provide his flock with answers to halachic questions, as was the case in Eliahu’s edict. They also stress that freedom of speech is accepting what others say even when it is so unpleasant that it stings – quoting former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, himself a Holocaust survivor, who said a play that analogized IDF soldiers to Nazis should not be banned even though it hurt people’s feelings.
Hacohen and Frimer also point to the fallacy of IRAC basing much of what they used to prove their petition’s validity on media excepts, which were not necessarily accurate.
Beyond the facts of Eliahu inciting to racism as per the media reports, which the attorneys deny, they also stress that the appropriate arena for dealing with differences of opinion in a democratic society is not a courtroom, rather the public domain.