Rabbi Dov Lior, perhaps the most influential figure within the national religious community, was arrested Monday, near Jerusalem.
Sources close to Rabbi Lior, who serves as Kiryat Arba's chief rabbi, said that he was making his way from Hebron to Jerusalem when he was arrested. He was transferred to a Jerusalem police detention facility.
An arrest warrant was issued against
Rabbi Lior a few months ago for alleged incitement over statements published in his book "The King's Torah," in which he legitimized the killing of non-Jews in war time.
Lior also took part in a protest where he criticized the Justice Ministry and State Prosecution over their order to remove his books from stores. "It is inconceivable that in the State of Israel some clerk from the justice Ministry gets to dictate what rabbis say," he said.
"I assume that it isn't Israel's policy to silence rabbis and so we call on the prime minister the man responsible for the system as a whole to give an unequivocal order to put a stop to this stupid persecution," he added.
Commenting on the arrest, Knesset Member Michael Ben Ari (National Union)
said: "The internal security minister needs to be fired. The police use kid gloves when dealing with Arab leaders and make a mockery of one of Israel's leading figures."
Minister of Religious Services Yakov Margi expressed his protest in a conversation with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. "He was abducted on his way to Jerusalem as a common criminal," he said. "Police should have found a more respectable more of questioning the rabbi."
National Union chairman MK Yaakov Katz was outraged. "Never has a man of his stature been arrested," he said. "We have called for a protest and the gathering of yeshiva students in the Russian Compound."
Meanwhile Kiryat Arba leaders have called for an emergency meeting to discuss how to respond and protest against the arrest. The head of the Kiryat Arba local council Rabbi Moshe Levinger has also spoken with the Judea Police Subdistrict Commander demanding that Rabbi Lior be released immediately.
"The fact that in this day and age Israel's Police Department chooses to arrest a rabbi, a community leader, because of his opinions and personal philosophies is grave indeed. We call for his immediate release and demand that the police apologize for this hasty and atrocious act.
"This is a scandalous act and a gross infringement of the freedom of expression of an intellectual …at a time when intellectuals from the left wing act treacherously against the State of Israel, yet no action is taken with the police not even daring to take steps against them."
Mks Zeev Elkin and Arieh Eldad, who head the Eretz Israel lobby in the Knesset issued a statement saying: "The Lobby is appalled by the police's decision to employ detectives against a rabbi in Israel, as if he was a common criminal, simply because of his halachic views. We urged the police to release him immediately and call of the investigation."
Members of the Yitzhar Rabbis' committee also issued a statement saying that with the arrest of Rabbi Lior "the police have crossed the line in the way they treat the world of Torah when they arrested a rabbi in Israel as if he were a common criminal. The arrest constitutes a grave violation of the freedom of Halachic expression, Yitzhar rabbis call on the chief rabbis to intervene and stop this."
Eli Senyor, Moran Azulay and Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report