"Scare Tactics" Against Rabbis May Be Illegal

The Justice Minister will be allowed to enact sanctions against rabbis who publicly object to the disengagement, including withholding their salaries. This is apparently an illegal measure, however.

, | updated: 12:45

Some rabbis, including many municipal Chief Rabbis, have antagonized government officials of late with public statements in opposition to the disengagement plan. This plan stipulates that within three months, policemen and soldiers will begin forcibly expelling some 9,000 Jewish residents of Gaza and the northern Shomron from their homes, the IDF will withdraw from these areas, and the land will be abandoned to the Arabs. Among the municipal rabbis who have been more outspoken against the plan are Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Tzfat, Rabbi David Druckman from Kiryat Motzkin, and former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira.

The underlying assumption behind the decision to enact such sanctions is that public service employees are not permitted to voice their political opinions in public.
The Civil Service Commission is under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Bureau, and the Prime Minister would generally be the one to determine if a violation of its regulations has occurred. However, Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz has opined that since most of the protests of late are directed against the Prime Minister and his disengagement plan, it would not be appropriate for him to decide who has violated this clause. Instead, Justice Minister Tzippy Livny will hold this authority.

Arutz-7 has found, however, that there is no law forbidding the rabbis to express their opinion on diplomatic matters. Clause 42.322 of the Civil Service Regulations Code specifies that public sector workers may not participate in demonstrations of a "political" character, nor may they take part in public meetings of political bodies. However, these regulations apply only to public service employees - and rabbis are not of this status.

The Civil Regulations Code itself (clause 42.321d) includes on its list of public service workers "rabbis and other religious leaders whose salary or part of their salary is paid by the national treasury." City rabbis, however, receive their salaries from local religious councils, and not from the Treasury.

"Rabbis of some moshavim receive their salaries from a body that is fully funded by the Treasury," said Natan Natanson, head of the Binyamin Region Religious Council, "so their status might be questionable. But other rabbis receive their salaries from a non-Treasury body, which itself is only partially funded by the Treasury, thus that there is no question that they are not public sector employees."

A Civil Service spokesman confirmed this today when he said, "The news item you are talking about [the decision to withhold rabbis' pay for their public opposition to the disengagement - ed.] has nothing to do with the Civil Service, as rabbis are not public service employees."

Tzfat's Chief Rabbi Eliyahu (pictured above), contacted by Arutz-7 today, said, "First of all, we are not public service workers; our status is the same as that of the broadcasters of Israel Radio and Army Radio. We receive our salaries from the public, but not from the Treasury. If they want to fire me, then they'll have to fire any broadcaster who makes a political statement as well."

"These methods won't scare us," Rabbi Eliyahu said. "I certainly don't intend to be quiet. Tens of thousands of people have signed their intention to show up at Gush Katif on the day of an evacuation, and Sharon feels that he's headed for defeat. If 100,000 people show up and break through the fences and make their way into Gush Katif, it's clear that there will be no disengagement. He's under great pressure, and that's why he's employing these scare tactics. What's next - that whoever doesn't vote for him in the upcoming party primaries will have his driving license revoked? ... The latest polls show that a clear majority of the Jewish public is against his plan, and the majority is getting stronger, and we will win."