Chief Rabbi of Kiryat-Arba and Hevron, Rabbi Dov Lior, told Arutz Sheva on Tuesday that the decision to launch a criminal proble into Tzfat [Safed] Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for 'racism' showed there is no freedom of speech in Israel.
"There is no freedom of speech, but a stifling of expression," Rabbi Lior said after hearing of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's decision to launch the probe into statements made by Rabbi Eliyahu to Israel's press during the controversy over a rabbinic ruling, in which he took part, against renting apartments to Arabs.
"It is difficult for me to agree this is incitement," Rabbi Lior said, dismissing the assertion the ruling had nothing to do with Rabbi Eliyahu's Torah views. "Rabbis focus on cultivating a love of humanity, and Judaism appreciates all righteous people, Jewish or Gentile, but Jewish law prohibits one from renting in Israel to non-Jews."
Rabbi Lior said, "What Rabbi Eliyahu said is a valid Torah opinion. To prevent rabbis from speaking their minds, which is their duty, is reminiscent of the methods of the Bolsheviks - who only allowed the Jews to express opinions of which they approved.
"There's no freedom of expression, but a silencing of the truth. If a Torah scholar studies the Torah and justifies his opinion from sources - explaining his reasoning - even if there are others who disagree with him... it is still Torah knowledge.
"The right of rabbis to express Torah opinions is on trial!" Rabbi Lior said. "This is against our holy Torah, let alone the rules of democracy."
"You cannot drown out the voices raising unpopular opinions. Rabbi Eliyahu is not a political person calling for insurrection against the laws of the state. He is merely expressing his Torah opinion on a relevant issue. Prosecuting him for this is no different than arresting a rabbi for teaching Sabbath [Shabbat] laws because the state allows people to drive on the Sabbath."
"Every investigation of this sort is an assault on the Torah of Israel, and against democracy and equality," Rabbi Lior concluded.
Weinstein has said he will not probe statements by Rabbi Eliyahu made that stem from his opinions on Jewish law, including his opinion - co-signed by 50 other rabbis - that one may not sell or rent a home to non-Jews when Israel's current socio-political circumstances are taken into account.
Instead, Weinstein claims, he will focus on comments made by Rabbi Eliyahu to Israel's press, such as “The Arab culture is very cruel,” and “When talking about Arabs, people speak in codes that normalize violence and turn into ideology.”
Critics, however, say Weinstein's probe into “public statements” is simply an oblique way of striking at Rabbi Eliyahu for expressing Torah opinions at odds with the ideology of Israel's secular left.
Civil Liberties advocates note Rabbi Eliyahu's statements – irrespective of their Torah content – would be considered protected speech in the enlightened Western democracies which Israel's left claims it wants to emulate.