Racist Rabbis

This is a guest post by Eyal

News reports in Israel today tell us of a new letter, signed by nearly over 40 chief municipal rabbis, forbidding Jews to sell or rent property to non-Jews:

Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis have signed on to a new religious ruling that would forbid the rental of homes to gentiles in a move particularly aimed against Arabs, Haaretz has learned.

The religious ruling comes just months after a group of 18 prominent rabbis, including the chief rabbi of Safed, signed a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.

The signatories also called on the religious community to voice support Rabbi Eliyahu, who could face trial for incitement against Arabs. Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman has also asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to begin the process of suspending Eliyahu immediately from his post as municipal rabbi.

This letter follows a trend of religious rulings against renting property to Arabs in Sefad and foreign workers in Tel-Aviv.

This is what happens when extremism by messianic religious zealots isn’t nipped at the bud. When extreme religious figures begin preaching hate, and feel they can get away with it, then eventually it will become legitimized and excused under the guise of religious belief. We have heard this type of message before, with no significant state response so far.

The signatories to this letter are not fringe personas, preaching to a small community of religious zealots. They are the chief rabbinical figures of many mainstream, middle-class towns and cities, receiving a state salary paid by the tax-payer.

As Haaretz has written before:

Not only are they not acting according to the guidelines, they are exploiting their status and using public bodies and the means at their disposal to incite, inflame passions and provoke divisiveness in Israeli society. They use their titles and public positions for dangerous preaching and to give official cover for their defamatory words.

The justice minister, the religious services minister and the mayors where these rabbis serve must warn them that they are abusing their positions and even suspend them if necessary. Otherwise, they too will bear responsibility for turning Israeli society into a tool in the hands of religious racist fanatics.

Had the title of the story would have read “Jews” instead of Arabs, we would all be crying “antisemitism”, and rightly so. This is flat out racism in its ugliest forms. It has nothing to do with religious belief, but rather for covering up bigotry with religious justification.

This type of behavior should not go unchallenged by the state authorities, and it’s high time that Netanyahu and his government to do something about it. So far the government’s reaction has been pretty minor, and consisted only of Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman asking for the Sefad municipal rabbi, who had previously signed a similar letter, to be suspended. However, we have not heard the response from the Justice Minister, Interior Minister, or indeed from the Prime Minister himself.

It is about time we did.

Gene adds: Netanyahu, to his credit, has denounced the rabbis’ letter.

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