In First Since 2008, Israel Convicts Rabbi of Incitement, Encouraging Hate Crimes

Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, praised hate crimes against Palestinians in 2013 in two opinion pieces

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Rabbi Yosef Elitzur in court, a decade ago.
Rabbi Yosef Elitzur in court, a decade ago.Credit: Moti Milrod
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Rabbi Yosef Elitzur from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar was convicted Monday of inciting to violence by extolling hate crimes against Palestinians in two opinion pieces he wrote in 2013.

The maximum sentence for such an offense is five years in prison.

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In 2013, while heading a yeshiva in Yitzhar, Elitzur wrote two articles on the HaKol HaYehudi website after the murder of a Yitzhar resident at the Tapuach intersection. The murder was followed by a string of hate crimes against Palestinians, which were termed “price tags.”

In one article, Elitzur wrote that “these actions were directed mainly at the Arab population, which was shielding the criminals. … The main thing is that a public with a different vision is taking shape, a vision of rulers who represent the Jewish people. This public is taking action against the enemy. These actions do not stem from despair, they are the first steps of a new public raising its head. These are the actions of Jews who view the situation soberly.”

In his second article, Elitzur wrote that “a growing number of people understand that action must be taken in order to defend themselves in the face of the evil that threatens Jews in the Land of Israel. Maybe it’s the few who are committing the deeds, but increasing numbers of people understand these actions, feeling that it’s better that there are those who still have a warm heart, burning in opposition to the evil and injustice.”

State prosecutors, who filed an indictment in 2017, noted that Elitzur was among the authors of a book called “Torat HaMelekh,” which dealt in part with cases in which a Jew is permitted to kill a gentile. Moreover, his seized computer contained articles such as “It’s permitted to rejoice when a mosque burns,” which, according to prosecutors, showed his intentions.

Throughout his trial, Elitzur maintained that his intention was to express his support for legal actions such as demonstrations and protests, and that he was not aware at the time of violent actions taking place against Arabs. He said that “settler blood was being regarded as cheap,” telling of family members and friends who had been murdered by Palestinians. He also argued that law enforcement was being carried out selectively.

However, Petah Tikva Magistrate Court Justice Eliana Danieli rejected Elitzur’s claims regarding the intention behind his articles. “I cannot accept the accused’s version regarding the purportedly conciliatory message in his articles, nor his claims that he had asked for more moderate action to be taken or that he had not praised the taking of violent action,” she wrote, adding that not one article could be found in which Elitzur could be portrayed as peace-seeking.

The judge said that after examining the content of the articles and seeking the opinion of experts, as well as considering other evidence, she had reached the conclusion that “the accused had published articles which extol violence, with their publication leading to a real possibility of violent action.”

She added that she was not ignoring the complexity of life in the settlements or the sentiments voiced by the accused regarding their feeling that their personal safety was not being guarded.

The last time a court dealt with incitement to violence by a rabbi was in 2008. Rabbis David and Yitzhak Batzri were prosecuted for statements they made against the opening of a bilingual school in Jerusalem. The rabbis admitted to the charges in the indictment and reached a plea bargain with the prosecution. The court sentenced them to community service with no criminal conviction.

The head of the legal department of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, Orly Erez-Lahovsky, who had filed a petition on behalf of the Movement and the Tag Meir Forum, asking for the prosecution of Elitzur, said, “He has been expressing himself for years in a manner that constitutes incitement against Arabs and support for ‘Price Tag’ terrorism.”

The Reform movement said, “Elitzur’s conviction sends a clear moral and Jewish message that racism is not part of Judaism. We’ll continue to monitor rabbis who incite in order to ascertain that rabbis who are public servants have no immunity from prosecution for incitement to violence and racism.”

The Tag Meir Forum also welcomed the verdict: “A person who was one of the authors of that abominable book, ‘Torat HaMelekh,’ as well as writing another similar article, was finally convicted by an Israeli court for inciting to violence in two articles he wrote. Rabbis on the extreme right are the ones providing an ideological-halakhic basis for Jewish terror, or in its whitewashed term, Price Tag.”

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