Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi at his office in Jerusalem
Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi at his office in Jerusalem in May, 2010 Photo by Emil Salman
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Several Knesset members and nonprofit organizations on Wednesday demanded a criminal investigation of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and 17 other rabbis, after Haaretz reported that they had called on Jews not to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews.

Eliyahu and the other prominent rabbis issued the call at a state-funded "emergency conference" in Safed last week entitled "Quiet War: Combating Assimilation in the Holy City of Safed." The event, which attracted 400 participants, was held at the Yigal Allon House, the municipal cultural center.

Speakers at the conference, who included far-right activist Baruch Marzel, expressed concern over plans to build a medical school in the city, saying this would exacerbate the problem of "the Arab takeover of Safed."

MKs Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ), Hanin Zoabi (Balad ) and Hanna Swaid (Hadash ) sent separate letters to the attorney general on Wednesday demanding that he open a criminal probe of the rabbis.

Eliyahu had been indicted for incitement to racism five years ago, but the prosecution withdrew the charges after he promised to apologize. This decision was clearly a mistake, the MKs wrote, as it encouraged Eliyahu to continue inciting against Arabs.

This time, they said, the rabbis in question must be brought to trial. Otherwise, Eliyahu's statement will be seen as legitimate, and even as having been endorsed by the law enforcement authorities, headed by the attorney general.

The Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center and the Abraham Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting coexistence between Israeli Jews and Arabs, also demanded that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein open a criminal investigation against Eliyahu.

"[Eliyahu's] return proves how grave an error the state prosecution made in canceling the charges against him ... for a stammered apology that ... is not worth the paper it was written on," IRAC's letter said.

Such racist remarks by anyone would be grave, the letter continued, but the fact that Eliyahu is exploiting his status as chief municipal rabbi - as well as city funds - to issue these statements make the case far more serious.

Zoabi said the prosecution "must open an immediate criminal investigation, without waiting for an official complaint. These are racist statements that require immediate action from the law enforcement authorities."