Elazar Stern
Elazar SternIsrael news photo: Flash 90

An attorney has demanded that MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) retract what he said were defamatory statements made by the MK about Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba. The attorney, Yossi Dayan, said that he would give Stern an opportunity to retract the statements and publicly apologize to Rabbi Lior before “taking action” against the MK.

Dayan said that by stating in the Knesset last week that Rabbi Lior did not believe that Ethiopian Jews were actually Jewish, Stern had made a defamatory statement that had damaged the reputation and well-being of the rabbi.

“Had Stern bothered to conduct even a basic investigation of the matter he would have discovered that the Rabbi Lior was discussing the status of the circumcisions of Ethiopian Jewish males done in Ethiopia, and that his position was identical to that of the Chief Rabbinate, which considers Ethiopian Jews to be wholly Jewish," he said

Speaking in the Knesset last week, Stern claimed that Rabbi Lior had said in a Torah lecture that “Ethiopians are not Jewish,” and had told a man who expressed upset at his words, “Oy [woe] to you if your son marries an Ethiopian girl. She isn’t Jewish.” Rabbi Dov Lior's statements are hurtful to the Ethiopian-Israeli community, Stern said in the Knesset and in a subsequent statement. “He is not our rabbi,” Stern declared.

But witnesses present at the class Stern claimed to be quoting told Arutz Sheva that some of what Stern claimed Rabbi Dov Lior had said had been taken out of context, and that the rest had not been said at all. Rabbi Dov Lior had stated that Jews from Ethiopia, who were separated from rest of the Jewish nation for millennia, should undergo a “giur l’chumra,” they said – a brief conversion ceremony conducted in cases where a person’s Jewish background is unclear. This ruling is in line with the Rabbinate’s decision regarding Ethiopian Jewry.

However, the witnesses said, Rabbi Dov Lior did not say that Ethiopian Jews are not Jewish, “and the rabbi certainly did not tell anyone present, ‘Oy to you if your son marries an Ethiopian girl.'"

Dayan said that he would expect Stern to take the appropriate “corrective action to restore Rabbi Lior's damaged reputation,” and that if he did not, further legal action would be taken. According to Dayan, Stern's parliamentary immunity does not apply in cases of libel, slander, and defamation.