Candidate for Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Denies Making anti-Arab Remarks

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu says his comments were taken out of context and subject to editing errors - if he even said them.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi, told Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Sunday that controversial remarks attributed to him had been taken out of context, while some he never said at all.

Eliyahu once reportedly said that a separate college should be established in Safed for Arabs so that only Jewish students would attend the existing college. In another interview, he called on Jewish property owners not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs.

“I didn’t understand the problem with some of what you showed me and asked me about,” Eliyahu, Safed's chief rabbi, said in a letter to Weinstein. “Do I as a rabbi have to explain why I object to marriages between Jews and non-Jews? Do I have to respond when asked why I object to same-sex marriages or why I support people becoming observant?”

Last week, after Eliyahu had announced he was considering running for chief rabbi, Weinstein wrote to Eliyahu that the rabbi's candidacy was "likely to be found unsuitable and to raise legal difficulties." Weinstein asked for various clarifications, and Eliyahu responded Sunday.

“Because I am loyal to both the values of the Torah of Israel and the values of Zionism and the State of Israel, I distinguish between people – Jews and non-Jews, all of whom we are commanded to respect – and enemies who wish us ill,” Eliyahu wrote.

As for the controversial quotes, “Some were never said by me, and some were said in contexts that were radicalized and presented out of the Torah context in which they were said,” Eliyahu wrote.

Thus, for example, the rabbi argued that there “is a very high probability” that responses to questions posted on the Kipa religious website had not actually been written by him, because the responses were posted in 2006. Eliyahu says he stopped answering questions on the site in 2002.

Eliyahu also addressed media interviews for which transcripts contained both editing and transcription errors, he said. In an Army Radio interview, "there were significant typographical errors in the transcript; for example, the word leharhiv [to broaden or expand] instead of the word leharhik [to distance or move away].”

He said that an opinion piece he wrote for Haaretz in November 2010, "Judaizing the Galilee is Zionism,” had been changed during the editing process. In the piece, he objected to selling homes to Arabs.

“Every intelligent person understands that one change can turn a piece dealing with Zionism and settlement to one with other connotations,” Eliyahu wrote in his letter. But he did not discuss the editing changes in detail or what he had written before the alleged distortions.

“As someone who was educated in the lap of our holy Torah, one could not expect me to act hypocritically or artificially and say things that might sound good in circles that try, through the courts, to achieve things they don’t achieve by democratic means,” Eliyahu said.

Eliyahu added that the attorney general has refrained from intervening in the election of public figures, even when they had made controversial remarks.

He mentioned “elected officials from the Arab community [who] have expressed themselves in an extreme fashion that encourages terror,” and elected officials who "have been suspected or accused of sexual harassment or other serious allegations. In all these cases the attorney general did not declare that they were not fit to be elected.”

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Credit: Archive: Lior Mizrahi / BauBau

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