Eliyahu Is Unfit to Be Chief Rabbi

Rabbi Eliyahu's racist statements disqualify him from serving as a rabbi in this country, in the city of Safed, and all the more so as chief rabbi of Israel.

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In the late 1990s, then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein instituted a controversial new feature at the end of an investigation into the conduct of public figures, which was called at the time a “public report.” In an afterword to his decisions to close cases without indictment, he took the suspects, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, harshly to task over their conduct. The report was a kind of announcement to the public that the suspect had indeed done wrong, even if he had not crossed the threshold of criminality.

Now, the current attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, has instituted a Rubenstein-like feature of his own: Weinstein has decided to hold a hearing for the municipal rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is vying for the post of chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Eliyahu has attained a reputation for racism and apartheid and for incitement against Jewish-Arab coexistence. He has ruled that people should not rent their apartments to Arab students in the city, and at a convention in Ramle in April, he said that in Safed people do not sell land to non-Jews, nor do they rent to them. “In Safed the halakhic [Jewish law] ruling worked! Praise God,” he said, adding: “Neither the religious nor the secular” sell apartments to Arabs in that city.

For some reason, nothing about these statements led to Eliyahu’s removal from his post. But ahead of his possible promotion to chief rabbi, Weinstein and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni have become alarmed, fearing damage to the image of the State of Israel.

The hearing is problematic. What will Weinstein hear from Rabbi Eliyahu - that his incitement is enshrined in the sacred scriptures? That a basis for racism can be found in Jewish law? And if Rabbi Eliyahu is given a hearing, why should other rabbis who incited others against entire groups, or encouraged violence toward government officials, not also be given a hearing? And if Livni is right in pointing out the damage to Israel from such belligerent ideologies if held by a chief rabbi, why is this not the case when it comes to people in more senior posts, such as MK Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister?

If there is any reason to give Rabbi Eliyahu a hearing, it is that this will arm Weinstein with reasons not to defend the rabbi’s appointment as chief rabbi if the High Court of Justice is petitioned in the matter. These reasons should also be waved in the face of political figures who are preparing to support Rabbi Eliyahu’s candidacy, first among them Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, who is also religious services minister. They are the address for a public report, only before the fact. Rabbi Eliyahu must not serve in a public position in a democratic country. His racist statements disqualify him from serving as a rabbi in this country, in the city of Safed, and all the more so as chief rabbi of Israel.

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