MK Uri Ariel (National Union) criticized on Tuesday the Israeli government’s decision to launch a criminal probe against Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu on suspicion of racism against Arabs.
“The State Attorney’s Office is persecuting rabbis and opening all kinds of investigations that lead to nothing,” Ariel told Arutz Sheva. “What happened here, in this arrest, is very serious and it should not happen in a Jewish democratic state.”
He promised to act to stop the continued persecution of rabbis by the prosecution and said, “We will act very aggressively to eliminate this reality where the prosecution pursues rabbis. Rabbi Eliyahu says things firmly, honestly and without hesitation and he should be respected for that. We will back him up and make efforts to stop this.”
Ariel also said that he plans to look into introducing legislation to stop this phenomenon.
“There is a way to stop it through legislation,” he said. “We’ve already seen some legislation being passed that has resulted in change. I’m going to hold discussions in the plenum and in the different committees, and if we have to make legislative changes we’ll even do it in the current Knesset.”
On Tuesday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said that the investigation against Rabbi Eliyahu will not involve statements that the rabbi made as part of decisions based on Jewish law, such as the ruling by Rabbi Eliyahu and 50 other rabbis that a Jew should not sell or rent homes to non-Jews.
Weinstein adopted the recommendations of government prosecutor Moshe Lador, who said racism is suspected in statements to the media by Rabbi Eliyahu. Among statements that are being probed are, “The Arab culture is very cruel,” and “When talking about Arabs, people speak in codes that normalize violence and turn into ideology.”
He stated that examples of the “ideology” are stealing farm equipment from Jews and blackmailing farmers for protection against thefts, an all-too-frequent phenomenon in the Galilee and Negev.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements were made following complaints that Arabs were moving into Jewish neighborhoods and disturbing Jews in Tzfat, one of the four traditional holy cities cited in the Talmud. The others are Jerusalem, Hevron and Tiberias.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s office responded to the probe in a statement released on Tuesday and which read, “Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu welcomes the Attorney General’s announcement that there is no place to launch an investigation into a rabbinical ruling forbidding the sale of land and homes to foreigners, and his approach that unnecessary intervention in religious rulings should be avoided. The rabbi is certain that an investigation regarding his various public statements will clarify his position, which clearly and unequivocally is that the State should act against terrorist supporter populations in the Arab sector and not against the entire Arab sector.
“The rabbi hopes that one day there will be a real equality before the law in the field of freedom of expression of spiritual leaders, without discrimination between right and left,” the statement concluded.