Over 1,000 liberal Diaspora rabbis have appealed to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat not to appoint Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu as the capital's chief Sephardi rabbi, citing his history of anti-Arab remarks and rulings. Reports are that Barkat is leaning toward Eliyahu for the appointment, which is being fought over by Jerusalem's Orthodox Jewish powers.
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Prominent among the rabbis signing the letter were Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Conservative Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, liberal Orthodox Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Reconstructionist Rabbi Deborah Waxman and Rabbi Brian Lurie, president of the New Israel Fund.
The letter notes that Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, "made a halakhic ruling barring Jews from renting apartments to Arabs, opposed military service for women, characterized Arabs and Muslims in racist and humiliating terms, while the attorney general said his candidacy for [Sephardi] chief rabbi was inappropriate."
The rabbis told Barkat that appointing Eliyahu to the post would "send a message of divisiveness and intolerance" from Jerusalem.
In recent years, Eliyahu sought to keep Arabs from moving into Safed, whose local college has some 1,500 Arab students. He said that selling or renting homes to Arabs "is prohibited by Jewish law."
On one occasion he was quoted as saying, "The Arab society has an agenda; they want to Islamicize the world. Arab society is, generally and without generalizations, a violent society."
Another time he came out against girls serving in the army, saying it puts them "into inappropriate situations that harm their faith, emotions and often, sadly, their bodies."
Eliyahu's late father, Mordechai, was chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel and later a spiritual leader to many extremist settler youth, delivering a eulogy at Meir Kahane's funeral.