Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Israel news photo: Flash 90

The government is opening a criminal probe against Safed (Tzfat) Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu on suspicion of racism against Arabs.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said that the investigation 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, whose father was the late Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai 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.

“The minute you make room for Arabs among Jews, it takes five minutes before they start to do whatever they want,” he also has been quoted as saying.

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 also has said, “Jews do not have to flee from Arabs. They need to make them flee,” and “Moving Arabs out of Jewish neighborhoods is a strategic act.”

The government charged Rabbi Eliyahu in 2006 with racist remarks against Arabs, and he agreed to state that he does not associate himself with the remarks cited in the indictment.

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 supporters 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.