Attorney General Pledges Hearing if Allegedly Racist Rabbi Runs for Top Post

Safed chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is unfit to the be the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Tuesday that if the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, runs for the post of Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, his office will examine the matter and Rabbi Eliyahu will be summoned to a hearing.

Weinstein made the announcement at a meeting on the issue in response to calls from MKs who sought to disqualify Rabbi Eliyahu from running because of racist statements he has made in the past. Weinstein said Eliyahu was an unfit candidate in light of his racist statements and the nature of the office.

It is unclear by what authority the attorney general could interfere in the election of a chief rabbi by disqualifying a candidate, or what procedure he could use to do so. Last month, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni asked Weinstein for a professional opinion on the possibility of bringing disciplinary action against Eliyahu.

Eliyahu, the son of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, is known for his radical positions. After the bombing attack on Bus 361 at Meron Junction in August 2002, in which nine people were killed and 38 injured, he called for the expulsion of Arab students from the Academic College in Safed. As a result of this and other similar statements, he was indicted for incitement to racism.

Eliyahu said in the past that a separate college should be established in Safed for Arabs so that only Jewish students would attend the existing college. In an interview in 2004 about posters that were put up in Safed saying that Arabs in the village of Akbara were holding young Jewish women captive, Eliyahu said, “This is another kind of war that the Palestinians are waging against us, and we must defend ourselves accordingly. These are young Jewish women aged 15 to 25 who were enticed by young Arab men.”

In another interview, Eliyahu called on Jewish property owners not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. In that interview, he said, “Say the word ‘racist’ twenty times; I’m not impressed. Incidentally, it’s also forbidden by religious law. Apartments may not be sold to Arabs. Apartments may not be rented to Arabs.”

In 2006, the indictment against Eliyahu was dismissed following an agreement in which the rabbi promised to issue a clarification.

Over the past few days, the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, has found himself under increasing pressure to support Rabbi Eliyahu in his bid to become the Sephardi chief rabbi alongside Rabbi David Stav as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. But MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) asked Bennett not to support Eliyahu, citing a rabbis' letter he initiated in December of 2012 opposing the sale or rent of real estate to non-Jews.