Top Israeli Rabbi Should Be Indicted for Condoning Fatal Stoning, Rights Groups Say

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu told students from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva, where the main suspect in the stoning death of Aisha Rabi studies, that they shouldn't fear prison because it's the path to political power

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, in a file photo from 2011.Credit: Yaron Kaminski
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

Several Israeli rights groups are calling for disciplinary action and criminal charges to be taken against the Safed's chief rabbi for comments he made defending the main suspect in the stoning of a car in which a Palestinian woman passenger, Aisha Rabi, was killed.

The Israel Religious Action Center, which is an affiliate of Reform Judaism, and the Tag Meir anti-racism group said the rabbi's statements show support for the suspects.

Rabbi Eliyahu’s comments were made to students from the Pri Haaretz yeshiva near the West Bank settlement of Rehelim. The stoning occurred near the settlement, and on Thursday, a student from the yeshiva, a juvenile whose name is barred from publication, was charged with manslaughter for allegedly throwing the rock that killed Rabi. Several of his classmates were also detained during the investigation of the case.

Eliyahu, one of the leading figures in the religious Zionist camp, told the students that prison will pave their way to the top leadership of Israel.

In a letter sent on Thursday to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and others, the Religious Action Center and Tag Meir wrote: “The rabbi’s statements indicate that he praises and encourages his listeners to take illegal action even if it leads to their arrest.” From his comments, it can be concluded that Rabbi Eliyahu “supports and identifies with the action of the Pri Haaretz yeshiva student who is suspected of throwing stones that caused Rabi’s death.”

As reported in Haaretz on Wednesday, Eliyahu reiterated in a video clip that was posted on YouTube that he had told the students from Pri Haaretz that Jewish suspects are discriminated against compared to Arabs. He also described the justice system as rotten. When Arabs throw stones in the West Bank, it’s fine but “if a Jew does – you would alert the whole Shin Bet [security service]?” he said.

Rabbi Eliyahu quoted from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes from a passage that states: “For out of prison he cometh to reign,” suggesting that the road to power in Israel passes through prison.

“These are remarks that reach the level of incitement to violence and sedition,” the letter said. “Rabbi Eliyahu wields great influence among the religious Zionist public. The statements were made to a young audience that is easy to influence and incite,” the letter said.

The two groups alleged that Rabbi Eliyahu frequently makes inciting remarks that would provide grounds for criminal charges. “This time it is a particularly serious statement, which legitimizes an act of murder and expresses utter contempt for the need to deal aggressively with this reprehensible act,” they wrote.

Two months ago, the High Court of Justice ordered Justice Minister Shaked to explain why she had not taken disciplinary action against Eliyahu for a number of statements that he made, including disparaging remarks about Arabs and gays. Shaked told the court that she had spoken to the rabbi about the matter. For their part, the two groups noted that the conversation with Eliyahu had taken place in December 2017, yet he “persists in expressing himself, ... making a laughing stock of the rule of law,” the groups claimed.

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