Dozens of artists and intellectuals, including several Israel Prize Laureates, have issued a manifesto against the nomination of Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu
Sephardic chief rabbi, arguing that he is a racist man who incited against Arabs and contributed to acts of violence against them.
The support voiced by some members of Habayit Hayehudi
party for Eliyahu's nomination is seen by the petition's signatories as a "black flag."
Referring in their statement to a series of halachic rulings and responses issued by Rabbi Eliyahu in recent years, the artist determine that "he is the rabbi of incitement from Safed, the one who ruled that apartments must not be sold or rented to Arabs, the one who has been inciting for years against Arabs and non-Jews in general – incitement which led to racist riots in Safed, the one who organized the inciting rabbis' letters,
the one who incites against sexual relations with Arabs."
The manifesto was drafted by writer Sefi Rachlevsky and has so far been signed by 30 men and women: Sculptor Micha Ullman, Prof. Yehuda Bauer, author Hanoch Bartov, Prof. David Harel, Cinematheque founder Lia van Leer,
graphic designer David Tartakover, photojournalist Alex Levac, actress Hanna Maron, contemporary dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin, Prof. Gavriel Salomon, sculptor Dani Karavan, composer Arik Shapira and former Knesset Member Yael Dayan.
Singer Achinoam Nini. Signed letter (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Other signatories include Prof. Rachel Erhard, Prof. Avner Ben-Amos, Prof. Helena Syna Desivilya, Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, artist Yair Garbuz, Prof. Zvi Tauber, Prof. Danny Jacobson, Dr. Shlomo Cohen, Prof. Avner Katz, author Hadara Lazar, conductor Uri Segal, playwright Joshua Sobol,
singer Achinoam Nini,
artist Izhar Patkin and Prof. David Shulman.
The petition notes that Rabbi Eliyahu had been indicted in the past for incitement to racism, although according to the signatories the State Prosecutor's Office is usually "weak and paralyzed in the face of the forces of religion."
This didn't prevent Housing Minister Uri Ariel from holding a meeting with Safed's rabbi recently and expressing support for his nomination as Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi, they say.
"The housing minister, who is responsible for selling and renting apartments to citizens, supports a person who forbids selling and renting to Arabs!" they argue. "He (the rabbi) who demanded revenge against seculars. He who mocked the 'moderates' who will oppose the concentration camps we'll set up in the future – he is the person who ministers in Israel want to appoint as the State's symbol."
The petition also calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
to remove Habayit Hayehudi from his government and boycott the national-religious party.
"It must be treated like we demanded Austria to treat Jörg Haider's party. It must be treated like the Knesset treated Meir Kahane's party. Complete denouncement. No contact. Walking out of the Knesset plenum when one of the members of the party supporting incitement to racism speaks.
"Every minute this is not being done is a black stain on the State of Israel. Every moment Habayit Hayehudi party sits in the government is complete contempt toward the victims of racism in Israel, in the world and in the history of the Jewish people, which is filled with victims of racial persecutions.
"Every moment that the leaders of the coalition parties – Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid
and Tzipi Livni
– cooperate with Minister Ariel and Habayit Hayehudi in the government, makes them responsible and stains them with serious racism. This cooperation make Netanyahu, Lapid and Livni, as well as the members of their parties, worthy of complete denouncement. They are guilty of contempt towards the victims of history's racial persecutions."
The petition concludes by saying that the question whether Rabbi Eliyahu will be allowed to compete or will be elected is marginal, as "the entire Rabbinate institution is false," but that his supporters must be censured.
"This isn't a slip of the tongue, this isn't even shrapnel in the rear end, it's an essence – a horrifying essence. The Israeli government is being put to a major test. Whoever fails will be responsible for the most serious delinquency against the memory of the history which led to the State of Israel."
Choreographer Ohad Naharin. Signed too (Photo: Yaron Brener)
Rabbi Eliyahu said in response that he saw his possible election as Israel's chief rabbi with great respect, and had taken upon himself to respect every man's way – including criticism from intellectuals.
According to a statement issued on behalf of the rabbi, "Intellectuals supporting tolerance, attentiveness and respect for fellowman should be expected to accept the rabbi's invitation to meet with him and listen to his views without any mediators and distortions, but in a direct and honorable manner.
"Many of the remarks attributed to the rabbi were never said, and are a radicalized and distorted interpretation. The rabbi is a Jewish and Israeli patriot, who supports the way of Torah and the sanctity of the land."
Habayit Hayehudi party offered the following statement in response: "The involvement of left-wing intellectuals in the Chief Rabbinate elections is extremely moving. Habayit Hayehudi has only announced its support for Rabbi David Stav
as Israel's chief rabbi."
The national-religious party invited the petition's signatories to "draft a letter of support for Rabbi Stav in light of the harsh attack
he is subject to these days. They may also take this opportunity to condemn boycotts against the residents of Ariel
like the one we saw last week, and in general we would be happy to suggest some ideas for additional letters, if they're already at it."
Eliyahu's nomination for Sephardic chief rabbi (also known as the "Rishon LeZion") has been criticized due to racist remarks he allegedly made in the past, including calling on Safed residents not to rent their apartments to Arabs, as one of the initiators of the 2010 "rabbis' letter."
The police even launched a criminal investigation
into those statements, but eventually decided to drop the case
against the rabbi due to "lack of evidence."
About a week ago, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to summon the rabbi for a hearing
before making a final decision on the matter, after receiving requests in to disqualify Eliyahu's candidacy over his past statements.
In closed forums, Weinstein voiced his opinion that Eliyahu's candidacy was inappropriate in light of the rabbi's racist statements and the national nature of the position.