Arab town - Olivier Fitoussi - October 11 2010
The Arab neighborhood of Dahiyat al-Salam. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Dozens of Israel's municipal chief rabbis have signed on to a new religious ruling that would forbid the rental of homes to gentiles in a move particularly aimed against Arabs, Haaretz has learned.

The religious ruling comes just months after a group of 18 prominent rabbis, including the chief rabbi of Safed, signed a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.

Most of the signatories to the letter are from Safed, a city that has seen an increase in its Arab student population that is enrolled at the town's local college. Safed chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who has been criticized in the past for incendiary remarks against Arabs, is the most prominent figure to sign the letter.

The group to sign on to the religious ruling includes the chief rabbis of Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Letzion, Carmiel, Gadera, Afula, Nahariya, Herzliya, Nahariya and Pardes Hannah, among a number of other cities.

The signatories also called on the religious community to voice support Rabbi Eliyahu, who could face trial for incitement against Arabs. Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman has also asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to begin the process of suspending Eliyahu immediately from his post as municipal rabbi.

Politicos from the national religious sector believe that the mass of prominent figures who signed on to the ruling – all of whose salaries are paid by public funds - will send a message to the attorney general to take Eliyahu's position seriously.

The rabbis' letter, which was first published months ago and reprinted in October, urges Jewish owners of apartments to reconsider renting their properties to Arabs since it would deflate the value of their homes as well as those in the neighborhood.

"Their way of life is different than that of Jews," the letter stated. "Among [the gentiles] are those who are bitter and hateful toward us and who meddle into our lives to the point where they are a danger."

The rabbis also urge neighbors of anyone renting or selling property to Arabs to caution that person. After delivering the warning, the neighbor is then encouraged to issue notices to the general public and inform the community.

"The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed," the letter reads.