Israel Yet to Act Against Safed Rabbis Who Warned Against Renting to Arabs

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein says action against municipal rabbis still being examined by relevant officials; letter sent by rabbis in December last year warned homeowners not to rent to Arabs because of halakhic ban.

It has been more than six months and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has still not decided whether there should be a criminal investigation against the municipal rabbis who called on homeowners not to rent apartments to Arabs.

Yesterday, responding to Haaretz, a message on behalf of Weinstein said that the matter is being examined by the relevant officials in his office and that their work is not yet completed.

Weinstein - Ofer Vaknin - 2011
Ofer Vaknin

One affair follows another, the newest one eclipsing the previous one, but in December last year a letter by city rabbis, including one of the leading forces behind it, Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, called on homeowners not to rent apartments to Arabs.

The rabbis wrote that there is a serious halakhic ban on renting apartments to Arabs, and renting an apartment to a non-Jew may result in ostracism. "It is the duty of the seller or renter's neighbors and acquaintances to warn him, to move away from him and prevent exchanges with him," they wrote.

Following the rabbis' call, Weinstein was asked by various people to initiate a criminal investigation against the rabbis.

Among those writing a letter to Weinstein on the matter were public activists, intellectuals and academics, who called on him to urgently take action against the rabbis who signed the letter.

They demanded that the attorney general immediately suspend all the rabbis who were civil servants and who "brutally crush the promises in the Declaration of Independence on whose basis Israel was formed."

Several days later, in December last year, a response was issued from Weinstein's office to one of those who contacted him, MK Ilan Ghilon (Meretz ) saying that "the attorney general believes that the statements attributed to the rabbis appear to be problematic from a number of perspectives, and on the face of it, in so far as it pertains to public office, are not in line with appropriate public behavior."

The statement also said that "the legal aspect of the matter is more complicated and the attorney general has assigned the relevant officials in his office to examine the presence of criminal and disciplinary aspects that apparently stem from the statements attributed to the rabbis, as was mentioned in your attached letter, with the necessary alacrity."

Since coming into office, Weinstein often speaks about the serious damage to the rule of law as a result of the delay in the criminal proceedings, whose duration often undermines the credibility of the legal system in the eyes of the public.

The author Yoram Kaniuk, one of those backing the letter sent to Weinstein in December last year, said yesterday that "if Weinstein cared about this issue, he would have taken action. An incontrovertible fact is that there is an attorney general, there is a state prosecution and there is a Justice Minister, and no one is doing a thing. There is no justice or judge, only rabbis, and no one is willing to deal with a rioting public. They are above the law."

Author Sefi Rachlevsky said that "the delay that Weinstein has exhibited with regards to the rabbis' letter is interpreted as weakness."

"There are a series of acts of incitement and there is no response to them by the rule of law, and every time the incitement only gets worse," he added.