Attorney general frustrates ‘racist rabbi’s’ chief rabbinate race

Shmuel Eliyahu has made a range of controversial statements about Arabs, homosexuals

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, and a candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)
Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, and a candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is set to inform Safed’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, that he will not defend his candidacy for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi in the face of legal challenges.

Channel 2 reported that Weinstein’s position does not automatically prevent Eliyahu from running, but in the event that his candidacy is challenged in the Supreme Court, there’s almost no chance it can survive without Weinstein’s support.

Eliyahu, a son of the late chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, has generated controversy over the past few years for a variety of statements and rulings deemed racist, including one ruling that forbade the rental or sale of Jewish-owned property in the city to Arabs.

“A Jew should not flee from Arabs. A Jew should make the Arabs flee. There is a silent war going on here for land”; “most of the violence in Israeli society stems from the Arabs”; and “the Arabs have a different code, and violent norms that have become an ideology” were among the statements Eliyahu made in a 2010 interview with Maariv.

Eliyahu’s campaign reacted strongly to Weinstein’s decision, charging in a statement that the attorney general had “ripped off his hypocritical mask of bipartisanship and trample democracy.” Weinstein, the statement said, “opted to court-martial Rabbi Eliyahu, assuming the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioner.”

On Sunday, responding to a request by Weinstein to clarify his statements, Eliyahu told the attorney general in a letter that the controversial remarks were taken out of context.

“Some were never said by me, and some were said in contexts that were radicalized and presented out of the Torah context in which they were said,” Eliyahu wrote.

In his letter to the attorney general, Eliyahu said, “I don’t understand what the problem is. Must I, as a rabbi, explain why I am against marriages between Jews and foreigners? Must I explain why I prohibit same-sex marriages? Must I explain why I am in favor of becoming religious?”

He added, “I distinguish between people, Jews and non-Jews, who we are all ordered to respect, and enemies seeking to conspire against us.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni announced earlier in July that she would weigh disciplinary action against the state-employed Eliyahu.

“A chief rabbi represents not just the rabbinate, but Israel itself as a country. Therefore, [his] rulings and statements that support nationalistic discrimination and have racist undertones are harmful to the already sensitive fabric [of Israeli society] and threaten to deepen the rift between us and Israel’s Arab citizens,” said Livni.

In 2011, Weinstein called for a criminal investigation into Eliyahu’s comments, but by 2012, the Justice Ministry, then headed by Yaakov Neeman, closed all proceedings, citing lack of evidence.

Eliyahu is the son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who served from 1983 to 1993.

Opposition parliamentarians, including Labor Party MK Eitan Cabel and Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, on Monday expressed their satisfaction with Weinstein’s decision to not back Eliyahu’s candidacy.

“Shmuel Eliyahu won’t be chief rabbi of Israel… because of our persistent struggle,” Horowitz said in a statement. “This is the right decision and I welcome it. Eliyahu is unworthy of the lofty post. He disseminated words of hatred against large communities in the country and against the rule of law.”

Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.

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