High Court orders A-G to speed up Eliyahu probe

Supreme Court president tells A-G office it has 60 days to inform High Court whether or not to indict Eliyahu for incitement to racism.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311 (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
In a hearing on Wednesday at the High Court of Justice, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch instructed the Attorney-General’s Office to inform the court within 60 days whether or not it will issue an indictment against Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu for incitement to racism.
The hearing was called following a petition by Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) – the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel – which sought a contempt-of-court order against the Attorney- General’s Office for failing to abide by an agreement it made with Eliyahu in 2006.
RELATED:A-G orders incitement probe into Safed rabbi
The agreement stipulated that an indictment that had been served against Eliyahu for allegedly racist comments made in 2003 and 2004 would be annulled if he apologized for his comments, retracted them, and pledged not make similar comments in the future.
According to IRAC, comments made by Eliyahu in 2010 in interviews with Haaretz and Ma’ariv, as well as a halachic ruling in October of that year calling for Jews not to sell or rent property to non-Jews – which was later supported by 49 other rabbis – violated this agreement, according to which Eliyahu’s previous indictment should now be renewed as a result of this alleged violation.
Among some of his comments, Eliyahu called Arab culture “cruel,” and said that “as soon as you give a place for Arabs among us, it takes them five minutes to start doing whatever they want.”
Although the contempt-ofcourt order itself was not granted, IRAC attorney Einat Hurvitz told The Jerusalem Post that she was extremely pleased with Beinisch’s decision since she agreed with the substantive argument that the Attorney-General’s Office should speedily decide whether or not to indict Eliyahu again.
During the hearing, Eliyahu’s attorneys argued that there was no case for a contempt-of-court order and that Eliyahu’s statements had been distorted by the media.
The Attorney-General’s Office said that Eliyahu’s comments of 2010 needed to be examined to see if they could be considered incitement to racism, to which Beinisch retorted, “It’s taken you quite a while to make a decision.”
Anat Hoffman, the executive director of IRAC, said that they had used the request for a contempt-of-court order as a tool to force the A-G’s office to expedite its decision.
“We wanted to draw attention to the foot-dragging of the state in this matter, and the manner in which it has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to this issue,” she told the Post.
“In the end, what worries me is the burnt mosque in Tuba Zanghariya. That time no one was in the mosque, but next time maybe blood will be spilt. The failure to deal with the issue is preventing the law from being enforced, and this will lead to new catastrophes unless it is dealt with,” she said.
On Tuesday, the Attorney- General’s Office announced that it was opening a criminal investigation into the comments made by Eliyahu in 2010 following the submission of IRAC’s petition for a contempt-of-court order in December 2010. Hoffman stated that the Attorney-General’s Office had only announced the investigation because of Wednesday’s hearing in the High Court.
In response to the announcement of the investigation yesterday, Eliyahu issued a statement saying 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.”
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) expressed his opposition to the investigation of Eliyahu, labeling it as “persecution” and an attempt to silence rabbis.
He said that he did not consider the halachic ruling against selling or renting property to non-Jews to be racist.
“It’s not racism; it is a call to protect the city [of Safed] and to protect its character,” he told the Post.
“Why is the state investigating rabbis when no one investigates Kheir Nassrallah, the mayor of Peki’in, for trying to prevent Jews from entering the city,” Ben-Ari asked.
Hoffman said that the issue was crucial to Israeli society.
“The Arab population is the witness that Israel can make it in the Middle East,” she said. “If we can successfully integrate them and make them part of our society, then it will show that we can succeed here.”
“As a member of a religious movement, I also happen to think that Rabbi Eliyahu is besmirching Judaism,” Hoffman continued.
“The Torah tells us 36 times to treat minorities with respect and as equals, because, it says, you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Every time he opens his mouth, I want the High Court to get him to close it again.”