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The dozens of city rabbis who signed a halakhic ruling prohibiting the leasing of apartments to Arabs are above all public servants who took advantage of their position to incite, in blatant violation of the law. The Jewish Religious Services Law forbids a city rabbi, who is appointed by law and is paid from the public coffers, to act "in a manner inappropriate to the position of a rabbi in Israel." Populist racist incitement, backed by a derisible interpretation of halakha, falls within that category.

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi must now bring disciplinary measures against the instigating rabbis as the first step in their dismissal. Only firing them from public office will deter other rabbis from such callous racism. It's highly doubtful that the minister, who belongs to the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, will do so; the attorney general must therefore instruct him to act in this spirit.

The current "halakhic ruling" is merely another manifestation of the rampant racist escalation among many rabbis who hold state posts and are supposed to serve a broad public. But they act like the worst kind of ignorant radical preachers. The racist rabbis are giving Israel a bad name and casting an indelible stain on Jewish culture and heritage. They are using an abominable concoction of vague quotes, threats and calumny to sow contention under the auspices of the authority vested in them by their status and skullcap.

Ramat Gan's city rabbi Yaakov Ariel did well to publish an opposing halakhic ruling yesterday, perhaps restoring a little of the public's shattered confidence in the rabbinate. The rabbis' ruling, however, is not a halakhic discussion (as Rabbi Ariel himself clarified in his statement ), but an act tantamount to spitting in democracy's face. It poses a real threat to the state and the stability of society.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined the denouncers as a refined, moderate commentator on the halakha, but said that "Israel rejects these statements out of hand." These words will have no meaning unless the government takes harsh measures against the inciters. In view of its prolonged disregard that lets the rabbis run amok unhindered, Netanyahu's statement could even become another symbol of the government's weakness.