A-G orders incitement probe into Safed rabbi

Investigation by Weinstein of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu will not look into halachic ruling on sale of land to Arabs.

Safed_311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided on Tuesday to open a criminal investigation against Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, on suspicion of incitement to racism.
The investigation will be based on a number of statements Eliyahu made in reference to the Israeli-Arab community which were publicized by the media.
The probe will not, however, include halachic rulings made by the rabbi that were also allegedly of a racist nature.
Specifically, the investigation will not cover the “rabbis’ letter” of December 2010, which 50 rabbis, including Eliyahu, signed.
The rabbis issued a ruling in the letter that it was forbidden, according to Jewish law, to rent or sell property to non-Jews.
Eliyahu has allegedly made numerous other comments of a racist nature. According to the attorney-general’s office, he has allegedly stated that “Arab culture is very cruel,” “Jews do not need to run away from the Arabs. A Jew must chase out Arabs,” and “expulsion of Arabs from Jewish neighborhoods is part of the strategy.”
Following the submission of numerous complaints about Eliyahu’s public statements relating to the Arab community, the attorney-general decided to open an investigation into the rabbi on suspicion of criminal incitement to racism.
In response, Eliyahu’s office said that the rabbi “welcomed” the attorney-general’s announcement that there would be no investigation into the letter, and his “principled stance against intervening in halachic rulings.”
“The rabbi is certain that an investigation regarding his various public statements will allow [him] to clarify his position clearly and unequivocally which is that the state must act against parts of the Arab population who support terror, and not against the entire Arab community.
“The rabbi hopes that the day will come when there is real equality before the law, especially in the field of freedom of expression of spiritual leaders, without discrimination between the right or left.”
MK Avishai Braverman praised the decision to open an investigation into Eliyahu, stating that he had requested such an investigation from the attorney-general’s office a year ago, as minister for Minority Affairs.
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, coexecutive director of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, also welcomed the investigation, but called the failure to address the rabbis’ letter “problematic.”
“The decision not to investigate the rabbis’ letter implies that when a racist says and does racist things, he can justify it under the guise of ‘psak halacha,’” – issuing a legal ruling – Be’eri-Sulitzeanu told The Jerusalem Post. “Failure to investigate the letter basically says that this is kosher, and we can’t accept this stance. We hope that the decision will be reviewed, but if not, we will have to weigh whether or not to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Figures on the political right were, however, angered by the news of the investigation.
National Union Chairman Ya’acov Katz called on the religious- Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar to “stand up as one man and take the side of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu similar to how they have carried the battle flag against the establishment for the freedom and independence of halacha.”
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said that the announcement amounted to the persecution of Judaism.
“In mosques they continue to sing the praises of terror and in universities they continue to call for racist boycotts on Israel,” he said.
The Justice Ministry stated that in 2006 Eliyahu had agreed to comply with a number of directives from the Ministry in return for the retraction of an indictment against him for incitement to racism charges, regarding comments he had made about the Arab community. Eliyahu agreed to retract the statements attributed to him and apologized to those offended by his words, after which the state retracted the indictment.
In the matter of the rabbis’ letter, Weinstein said he decided not to launch a criminal investigation into it because it would be difficult to prove that the ruling was issued with the intent to incite racism, as required by law. He also stated that the protection granted by Article 144 c (b) of the Penal Code regarding quotation from scripture and religious works would likely protect rabbis from prosecution regarding any halachic ruling.