Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided Tuesday to open a criminal investigation against Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, for alleged incitement to racism.
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The decision to investigate Eliyahu came after he was quoted making several anti-Arab comments in interviews with the media.
Eliyahu was one of 18 rabbis who signed a petition in October 2010, urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews – a move seen as being directed against Arab students enrolled in Safeds college. Some 50 rabbis eventually endorsed the so-called "rabbis' letter."
The criminal investigation opened by Weinstein will not focus on "rabbis' letter," however, but rather on personal remarks made by Eliyahu.
After a series of complaints were lodged with the Attorney General's office regarding Eliyahu's anti-Arab remarks, Weinstein decided to investigate whether any criminal intention could be found in the remarks.
Eliyahu last year slammed those who have accused him of being a racist, saying that a survey showed that 74 percent of the public supports the letter. He added that he believed the letter had backing from God.
The rabbis of the right-wing NGO World Headquarters to Save the People and the Land of Israel denounced the move to indict Eliyahu, calling the decision "a crime against the Jewish people meant to humiliate Israel's rabbis and Torah."
"We urge Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu do refrain from cooperating with the political investigation, which harkens to a darker time in Jewish history," the right-wing group said.
In another response to Eliyahu's indictment, the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education (FCAE) called the move "too little, and, mainly, possibly too late."
"Eliyahu's racist positions – which Arab students in Safed and around Israel have suffered and continue to suffer – are no longer a marginal phenomenon but have found their way to the majority of Israel's lawmakers and ministers, FCAE director Raja Za'atra said.
Za'atra added that racism was a "malignant" affliction, saying that if Israelis don't "fight it determinately, Jews and Arabs alike, it will bring an irreversible fascist disaster on us all."
Eliyahu, the son of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, is known for his extreme stances, and has been indicted in other occasions for incitement to racism. In one occasion, he called to remove all of Safed Academic College's Arab students following a suicide attack on a bus near Meron in northern Israel.
At the time, Eliyahu criticized Safed Academic College as a potential site for the creations of inappropriate relations between Jews and Arabs, saying that best possible solution for the issue was the forming of a separate Arab college.
In a 2004 interview, Eliyahu commented on posters distributed in Safed, which claimed that "Jewish girls were imprisoned by Arabs in the village of Akbara," saying that relations between Jewish women and Arab men were "another kind of war the Palestinians are waging against us, and we must know how to defend ourselves."
"There are Jewish girls, 15-25 years-old, seduced by young Arab men. I also know that in many of the cases they were Arab men already married to Arab women, and those Jewish girls were taken as slaves of sort, without any possibility of escape," Eliyahu said.