PM on Lior Affair: No One Is Beyond the Rule of Law

Benjamin Netanyahu releases statement in response to detention of Rabbi Dov Lior for endorsing book that justifies killing of non-Jews; Netanyahu says no one 'beyond the rule of law.'

After 24 hours of silence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement yesterday on the controversial detention of Rabbi Dov Lior, noting that no one was beyond the rule of law.

For months, Lior had been wanted for questioning after he endorsed the book "Torat Hamelech," which justifies the killing of non-Jews. The rabbi was briefly detained by the police on Monday.

Netanyahu - Daniel Bar-On - June 29 2011
Daniel Bar-On

"Israel is a country with the rule of law," Netanyahu said. "The law applies to everyone. I call on all citizens of Israel to respect it."

Netanyahu did not mention Lior by name, and did not comment on Lior's failure to report to the police for questioning. The prime minister also did not offer any backing for Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan, who has become a target of harsh criticism by right-wing activists. One Internet video has called for his assassination.

For his part, Lior discussed the affair with students yesterday, calling any allegations of incitement "baseless slander."

"Take guns and grenades into Nablus and make a mess there. Did I ever say such a thing? I never said such a thing," Lior said. "And this is why all this talk about violence is a fabrication and slander. So you want me to cooperate? I think it was a planned ambush. I don't know how they knew I was planning to go to Jerusalem. It's like the Bolsheviks - maybe they learned from the KGB."

Lior assured his students that "we have a commitment to all mankind, to lift it up. The people of Israel are never going to take over another people or to take away somebody else's country."

Lior is the rabbi of the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron. Commenting on "Torat Hamelech," Lior said: "The book discusses an issue of Jewish law, especially about how to treat gentiles during war. The book deals with the question of whether there's a problem in harming what's called the civilian population ... during war. According to the Torah, there's no problem in harming the enemy side even if you know innocent people will be hurt."

According to Lior, "This isn't good even during war, but what can you do, that's reality. The IDF would never hurt civilians for no reason." As for the claim that the book was inciting to violence, the rabbi said: "Let them tell me where I incited to violence, tell me what I did, where I said it."

The actual author of the book, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira of the settlement of Yitzhar, plans to release a sequel, continuing his discussion on when killing gentiles is warranted. Shapira will focus on the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

Shapira made the announcement in a clip on his website, The Jewish Voice, promising also a third run of the original book. Two thousand copies have been printed to date, a respectable number for a religious tract.

Meanwhile, most of the young people detained while rioting in protest of Lior's brief detention on Monday were conditionally released yesterday. The men, mostly in their 20s, were held on allegations including interrupting a police officer in the course of duty and attacking a police officer.

The men blocked roads in Jerusalem and tried to break into the Supreme Court and Nitzan's house. Those released yesterday were banned from Jerusalem and protests anywhere for 21 days, while the police said they would prepare indictments.

"Shai Nitzan is not an institution, he's an employee in the system," State Prosecutor Moshe Lador said yesterday in the deputy attorney general's defense.

"The institution is called the prosecution service, it makes the decisions, and it is overseen by the institution of the attorney general. The attorney general, the state prosecutor and the Justice Ministry's senior officials are the ones who took all the decisions in recent years in the fields Shai Nitzan works in." He added that the attacks on Nitzan were unacceptable.

As the deputy responsible for deciding when to launch investigations and press charges on cases of abuse of freedom of speech, Nitzan is the establishment figure most identified with Lior's detention.

This is the case even though Lador said the decision on Lior had been made by the state prosecution several months ago, after the rabbi refused to arrive for questioning.

Earlier yesterday, opposition leader Tzipi Livni attacked the prime minister for not commenting on the affair. "Why are you silent?" Livni asked Netanyahu after he left a Jewish Agency conference in Jerusalem.

"Nobody likes to see a rabbi in detention," she told the conference. "Neither do I. I also don't like seeing a prime minister being interrogated and a president going to jail. But Israel must preserve itself as a state with the rule of law where everyone is equal before the law."