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US nixes visa of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who’s been accused of racism – report

Safed chief rabbi, a leading national-religious figure, blames ‘anti-Zionists’ in the Reform movement for decision to cancel his travel document

Chief Rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu speaks at the 'Besheva' group, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Chief Rabbi of Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu speaks at the 'Besheva' group, on February 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The US embassy recently told the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, a prominent figure in Israel’s national-religious movement, that his visa to visit the US has been revoked.

The visa was rescinded before its expiration date, according to an Israel Hayom report on Monday.

The embassy declined to comment to the newspaper about the development, while Eliyahu blamed his opponents in the Reform movement.

Eliyahu, the son of the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu who served as Sephardic chief rabbi from 1983 to 1993, has generated criticism in the past few years for a variety of statements and rulings on Jewish law, including one that forbade the rental or sale of Jewish-owned property in the northern city of Safed to Arabs.

The rabbi, who has placed a focus on developing ties with US Jews, has also criticized the Reform movement, the LGBT community, and women serving in IDF combat units.

A statement on behalf of Eliyahu said the rabbi was not given any reason for the cancellation of his visa, which he had held for many years.

“Our inquiries show that this is an action of anti-Zionists, such as the Reform movement, entities that frequently try to infringe on freedom of expression and silence rabbis,” the statement said. “After failing to silence Rabbi Eliyahu using legal action, they are now trying to silence the rabbi using a variety of petty methods.”

“There is no reason for worry — they will not succeed,” the statement added.

In 2015, after then-education minister Naftali Bennett visited a Jewish school in the US affiliated with the Conservative movement, Eliyahu told Army Radio that Reform and Conservative Jews were causing a “spiritual Holocaust” of Judaism and that to give them any legitimacy is “a disaster.”

He has also in the past urged protests against the Women of the Wall, a group campaigning for egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

In September 2020, the High Court of Justice ordered disciplinary action against Eliyahu for making a series of offensive comments and for taking “explicit” political stances forbidden to him due to his status as a government employee.

The court ruling came in response to a petition filed by several rights groups in 2016 against Eliyahu, citing over a hundred separate statements.

At the time of the ruling, he was one of several prominent right-wing rabbis to call for the acquittal of a Jewish Israeli convicted of murdering three members of a Palestinian family in a terror attack.

In 2018, Eliyahu set off tensions with the defense establishment when he said IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot should be dismissed because he allowed female soldiers to serve in combat units.

The same year he put his name to a letter along with 200 other rabbis that accused LGBT groups of employing “aggressive terror accompanied by nonstop media brainwashing” and for turning “perverts into heroes.”

Eliyahu has also been a prominent activist against sexual harassment and assault in the ultra-Orthodox community, establishing a special tribunal to investigate allegations that are not brought to the police and warning the public against those he believes are guilty of crimes. He also supports organ donations, which are generally frowned upon in the community due to religious complications.

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