More than a month ago I filed a complaint with the attorney general against Safed Rabbi Shlomo Eliyahu over his racist and inciting words and actions. My letter had not been answered to this day. Many others also inquired about the issue but nothing had been done. The rabbi continues to run wild. His friends and colleagues, the rabbis of other towns, understood that they can act zealously and recklessly, making headlines and scoring points among their followers by hating and inciting without being punished – despite the explicit legal ban on incitement to racism.
So more rabbis wanted to get in on the action, and 50 of them signed a petition banning the renting or selling of apartments to Arabs; this is the gravest petition we had seen around here as of late. This statement is a spit in the face of the legal system, and mostly a spit in the face of Jewish history, where Jews in Europe were victimized by bans, boycotts, and racism of this type. Yet these victims had disappeared since then, and now they found a new victim – the victim’s victim. How cruel and how painful that is.
Today, they preach for the same kind of hatred against others – against Arabs. They are reminiscent of the KKK’s skinheads, with one difference. The KKK’s criminals were scared to be exposed in public and therefore hid their faces behind masks. Yet these racist Israeli rabbis have embarked on a racist dance at town square with their faces exposed. They submit to interviews everywhere and seek more publicity. Their numbers may swell from 50 to 500.
The prime minister condemned it, and good thing he did. The president expressed his objection and the Knesset speaker was infuriated, as he tends to be, yet these are not laymen. They are Israel’s government leaders and they must act beyond the condemnations. The prime minister needs to instruct Attorney General Weinstein to launch a criminal investigation against these public servants, who are paid by all of us.
Moreover, how can we complain about the rabbis, who saw fit to compete with the new racists at the Knesset who reached new heights this year with a barrage of zealous, racist laws while being part of the government? Speaking at the Knesset podium, Minister Eli Yishai went out of his way to defend the rabbis who signed the petition.
Other ministers want to force the Arabs to pledge their allegiance to Zionism and to Judaism or else they will be handed over to another regime. Those who once feared the Arab nationality in Israel now fear Arab citizenship in Israel. The words of the rabbis are dangerous, yet the government’s policy is much more dangerous. The admissions committee law at Israeli communities meant to screen Arabs is a mirror image of the bunch of skinhead rabbis.
Lieberman and Yishai in the government, Rotem, Ben-Ari and Levin at the Knesset, 50 or more rabbis in Israelis cities, the racist and primitive fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, and the various thugs at the market make up the four sides of Israel’s racist square.
Racism is a lethal disease. At first, the victim is the “other” – the Arabs – yet the virus then spreads to those who are different in other ways: The Ethiopians, the Mizrahim, the poor, and the residents of the periphery. Racism in Israel must be eradicated, and I’m not only saying this as a representative of racism’s victim, the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel, but as one who fears for the way of life in this country, which must be premised on partnership and mutual responsibility as well as national, political, and civil respect.
Have we mentioned the notion of a Jewish and democratic state? The clash between these two values is highlighted at this time through the rabbis’ petition. Democracy is not only the majority’s right to rule and oppress, but mostly the right of the “other” – the Arab who was born in this country and never immigrated here – to be different but equal. Supremacy and preferential treatment to one people or nationality as opposed to seclusion, inequality, and arrogance towards the other nationality are not values that can coexist.
Racism will be eradicated through a joint struggle by me and broad sections of Jewish society comprising enlightened forces and figures, because the fire that has burned the Arabs so far will surely end up reaching those sitting on the sidelines, maintaining their silence or cheering on.
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi is the deputy Knesset speaker and chairman of the United Arab List – Ta’al party
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