Head of Islamic Courts in Israel Calls to Violate Coronavirus Restrictions

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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The Islamic Court in Be'er Sheva, 2018
The Islamic Court in Be'er Sheva, 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The president of Israel’s Islamic religious courts, Kadi Abed al-Hakim Samara, called on the public to violate coronavirus regulations on Facebook – and hinted that the United Arab Emirates betrayed the Palestinian by signing the peace agreement with Israel.

Al-Hakim Samara is the president of the Sharia Court of Appeals, the highest Muslim religious court in Israel.

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In an exceptional move, the judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham, called on Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to file a disciplinary complaint against Samara. Nissenkorn has not yet taken any action against him and his office said the matter is “being dealt with.”

In April, Samara expressed opposition to the Health Ministry’s social distancing policy, and wrote in a post on Facebook that people should pray crowded together in mosques. “Gather together and close the gaps and spaces, fill up the rows, Allah does not look at the crooked rows, don’t leave room for the Devil between you.”

Later he commented on the Health Ministry’s guidelines and wrote: If you look to the distorted law that wants to change the form of public prayer, Allah has not given any permission for it and it has no source.”

In other Facebook posts, Samara alluded to the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, writing sarcastically alongside a picture of Emiratis that “the history of the new friends … great pride.” In a different picture he shared on Facebook, Samara wrote that the capital of the Emirates was a “refuge for all the corrupt.”

Samara also shared a post of his from 2013 in which he wrote “a dog is more loyal than people.” He added to this old post: “A dog’s loyalty to his dead owner … in a period in which its loyalty is limited.” He seems to be hinting to the criticism in the Arab community that by signing the agreements with Israel, the UAE has betrayed the Palestinians. Other posts seem to be directing criticism at the leaders of Egypt and other Arab countries who have signed peace agreements with Israel.

As an employee of the state under the auspices of the Justice Ministry – and similar to all other judges and religious court judges in Israel – Samara is forbidden to comment publicly on political issues.

Kadi Abed al-Hakim Samara (second from left) with President Reuven Rivlin and other Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, in 2016Credit: Mark Nyman/GPO

A former employee of the Sharia courts documented the posts and submitted a complaint against Samara to the judicial ombudsman – who also has responsibility for oversight of religious court judges. But the day after the complaint was filed – which Samara was informed about – he deleted all the problematic posts.

In response to the complaint, Samara told Shoham that his position on following the coronavirus regulations during prayer services was that “the faithful must pray at home and not in mosques.” He also explained that he had criticized Islamic leaders who he said had misled the public when they encouraged people to come to the mosques while preserving social distancing between worshippers.

As for his posts on the peace agreements with the UAE, Samara wrote that no one could find even a single statement of his against peace and against any country, or any political statement. His only “sin” was to share a number of posts concerning the peace agreement with the UAE, without stating any opinion or taking a position, he added.

Last month, Shoham rejected Samara’s explanations and found the complaint against him to be justified. Shoham wrote that Samara’s comments concerning social distancing during prayer services did not “meet the standards of responsibility and caution required of him.” Shoham said Samara’s post could be seen as blocking the effort to eradicate the spreading coronavirus pandemic, “and that is a shame.”

As for the posts concerning the peace agreement with the UAE, Shoham said “these do not leave any doubt as to the violation of the ethics guidelines” by Samara. The use of the term “betrayal” toward someone who makes peace with Israel by a person serving in a national institution, and is a respected public figure, is inappropriate, to say the very least, and even outrageous, said Shoham.

Retired Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham in 2018Credit: Reuven Castro

Shoham said Samara should have avoided making any comments in any form on such issues, and called his explanations “puzzling” saying anyone can understand the context of what he said.

Nissenkorn’s office said “the matter is being dealt with by the Justice Ministry’s acting director general and the ministry’s professional staff, according to instructions issued by the justice minister to deal with this matter as soon as possible, as well as the entirety of additional issues concerning the Sharia courts.”

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