Chief rabbi candidate to be grilled over ‘racist’ comments

Attorney general to ask Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu to clarify past statements about Arabs; Livni considers disciplinary action

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

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi, was due to be summoned Wednesday by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for a hearing, following a request by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) earlier this week that the rabbi be disqualified from running due to “racist” comments he’d made about Arab citizens of Israel.

“Rabbi Eliyahu has consistently exploited his public position to incite against a minority in Israel that makes up a fifth of the population, using every available platform to spew racist, dogmatic statements,” said Cabel on Sunday.

Eliyahu, currently the chief rabbi of the city of Safed, has generated controversy over the past few years for a variety of statements and rulings, 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” — these were among the statements Eliyahu made in a 2010 interview with the Maariv daily.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni announced Tuesday that she would examine the option of disciplinary action against 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 split 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.

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