Rabbinical racism too much even for Netanyahu
Press Release, 7 December 2010
Israeli rabbis ban home sale and rental to non-Jews
See also Haaretz report: Netanyahu slams top rabbis’ call to forbid renting homes to Arabs
[and, later additions (12 Dec):
Richard Silverstein, Israeli Chief Rabbi Orders Shop Owners Who Employ Jewish Girls Not to Hire Arabs
Jeremiah Haber, On the Municipal Rabbis’ Manifesto Against Selling or Renting Apartment to Non-Jews in the Land of Israel
Amnesty International today condemned a religious ruling signed by dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis that bans the renting or sale of homes to non-Jews.
“This ruling issued by religious leaders employed by the state of Israel, whose salaries are paid by public funds, clearly targets the Palestinian citizens who make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population, and highlights the continuing discrimination they face in housing and other areas,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
While the ruling is not official government policy, the rabbis issuing it include the influential Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, and his counterparts in a number of other Israeli cities and municipalities, all of whom are essentially government employees.
In October, Rabbi Eliyahu had written a letter urging Jews not to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews, apparently in response to Arab students seeking accommodation in order to attend a local college. It was signed by 18 other rabbis.
“The message these calls send to Palestinian citizens throughout Israel could not be clearer – that discrimination against Palestinian citizens seeking housing is backed by religious authorities,” said Philip Luther.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s October letter also called for action to be taken against Jews who rent or sell homes or apartments to Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
“The neighbours and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed,” the letter reads.
In November, the Israeli Minority Affairs Minister requested that the Justice Minister investigate Rabbi Eliyahu for incitement, with a view to suspending him from his post as municipal rabbi.
As far as Amnesty International is aware, the Justice Minister has yet to take action on the matter.
“The Israeli government, as a party to international human rights treaties that prohibit discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion, must repudiate this call by leading rabbis, take disciplinary measures against Rabbi Eliyahu and other state employees advocating racism, and work to facilitate access to housing and higher education for Palestinian citizens in Israel,” said Philip Luther.
The prime minister says such things cannot be said in a democratic country, emphasizes that anti-Arab declarations are not acceptable in Israel.
Barak Ravid and Chaim Levinson, 7 December 2010
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday harshly condemned a move by a number of leading rabbis who signed on a ruling to forbid renting and selling homes to Arabs.
“How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews?” asked Netanyahu. “We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbors.”
Earlier on Tuesday, a number of top rabbis who signed on to a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles – a move particularly aimed against Arabs – defended their decision with the declaration that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.
“Racism originated in the Torah,” said Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, who heads the Ashdod Yeshiva. “The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted.”
Speaking at the National Bible Contest for adults, Netanyahu emphasized that such declarations are not acceptable in Israel.
“Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The state of Israel rejects these sayings.”
Education Minister Gideon Saar also related to the rabbis’ letter during his speech at the Bible contest on Tuesday evening, saying that the Torah commands one to have good relations with Gentiles.
Concurrently, dozens of people gathered in front of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv for a spontaneous demonstration against the rabbis’ letter forbidding the sale or rental of properties to Arabs or other non-Jews.
A number of cultural figures were present at the demonstration, including Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz. Horowitz said, “These people receive a salary from the state and break the law. As a Jew and an Israeli, I am embarrassed that these men are municipal rabbis.”
Horowitz continued, “There is no connection between what they preach, and Judaism. In the Declaration of Independence [of the State of Israel] it states that everyone has equal rights. We see a wave of fascism and racism that is trying to cut off sectors of Israeli society.”
Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Judaism movement in Israel, said, “The fire of racism will completely destroy Israeli society. If there is a lesson to be learned from what took place over the weekend, it is the danger of complacency. The rabbinical decree is abominable, and desecrates the seal of God that lies within every human being.”
The director Ibtisam Mara’ana said, “Instead of lighting a Hanukkah candle, I would like to light a memorial candle and say Kaddish, the Prayer of the Dead, for the democratic state that we once had.”
Mara’ana continued, “The rabbis took advantage of the state and usurped it for themselves. It is not only the state of the Jews. Today it is against Ibtisam the Arab, and tomorrow against Esther the lesbian, and next week against a woman with her hair exposed.”
On Tuesday morning, it was revealed that dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis signed on to a ruling urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.
In their ruling, the rabbis called on the religious community to voice support Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who could face trial for incitement against Arabs for initiating the move against renting to gentiles.
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.
Politicos from the national religious sector believe that the mass of prominent figures who signed on to the ruling – all of whose salaries are paid by public funds – will send a message to the attorney general to take Eliyahu’s position seriously.
Upon news of the religious ruling, Meretz faction whip Ilan Ghilon immediately asked the attorney general to dismiss each of the rabbis who had signed their names.
“We are witnessing an epidemic of racism and xenophobia and we must act firmly,” he said.
Deputy Knesset chairman MK Ahmed Tibi decried the letter as a “mass crime [committed] by a group of racist rabbis who should be given intensive course in Jewish history.”
“The entire group should be tried for “incitement to racism,” added Tibi, “Muslim clerics have recently been tried or fired from their jobs for much less but the rabbis are able to pursue their unruly behavior without concern.
Among the rabbis that signed the letter are the following: Yaakov Edelstein of Ramat Hasharon, Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod, David Wolpe of Rishon Letsion, Avraham Margalit of Carmiel, Simcha Hacohen of Rehovot, Yitzhak Yaakobovitch from Herzliya, and David Tsedakah from Pardes Hannah.
I couldn’t have made this up myself if I’d tried: the rabbis of the largely Yemenite city of Rosh Ha-Ayin (English), including the chief rabbi, declared a ban on hiring Arabs at stores which employ Jewish girls. I swear to you, it’s true. If you’d told me this story came out of Pakistan or Kandahar I might’ve believed you, but no, it’s from Israel’s Rosh Ha-Ayin.
Earlier this week, we had Orthodox rabbis ordering Jews not to rent to Arabs. Now, we have rabbis prohibiting hiring of Arabs. Where will it lead and when will it end? Should we have a special Israeli Orthodox Nuremberg-like conclave at which we set down an entire series of halachic rulings governing social interaction with Palestinian Israelis? Shall we call it the Heychal Shlomo* Laws?
The rabbis claim that if young impressionable Jewish girls come under the Svengali-like influence of Arab men they will swoon and give in to their blandishments and so pollute the Jewish gene pool. In other words, that dreaded phenomenon of assimilation, by which they really mean miscegenation. And those shopkeepers who refuse to comply will receive the full religious ostracism and be excommunicated. I didn’t even know Jews did that these days. The last serious excommunication I’d heard about was Baruch Spinoza’s in the Middle Ages (well, a nutcase group of Orthodox rabbis excommunicated all the members of New Jewish Agenda via a pulsa di’nura in the early 1980s because it advocated gay rights and two-states, so perhaps I’m wrong).
When asked about the rabbinic ruling, the municipal authorities (despite the fact that the rabbis are paid and employed by the government) said “it’s not within our authority.” The mayor of the Israeli-Palestinian neighboring village of K’far Kassem replied:
What is this? South Africa?
This move was spurred by reports brought to the chief rabbi that young Jewish girls were seen “keeping company” with Arab men. A letter written to the rabbi claimed:
These girls fall lower and lower and are not always aware of it because we’re speaking of Arabs. They aren’t giving thought to the damage and assimilation this causes.
Rabbi Basis replied:
I see the situation as grave because it leads to assimilation and the violation of very severe prohibitions [against interracial sex].
All of which is very interesting since I’m not aware of any traditional halachic violations against having sex with any non-Jew let alone an Arab. Certainly, there are such prohibitions by settler rabbis (influenced by Meir Kahane’s obsessive and racialist views on the subject).
The former head of the municipal religious council, a follower of Basis, added:
We must make clear to shop owners that any business [conducted with Arabs] must be done on the basis of segregation. And if not [the shop owner refuses], there must be a boycott. So they will be forced to choose from whom they profit the most from [Jewish] consumers or cheap [Arab] labor. There are grave situations in which girls in hardship find themselves [living] with Muhammad in the [Arab] village. Afterwards, you find she gives birth to Ahmed and Fatma. We must also warn the parents of this.
The woman who turned to Rabbi Basis with her complaint said:
What is happening is a catastrophe. I visit these stores and find our pretty Yemenite girls with Arabs who look Jewish. They buy them presents and talk nice to them and so deceive them. Afterwards, they end up in the village and get beaten. Within my own family, someone left her Jewish husband for an Arab because she was pregnant. That’s why I’m so sensitive to the issue.
The mayor of Kfar Kassem reacted with anger and demanded:
Why don’t they come right out and say what they really mean: that Arabs aren’t welcome in Rosh Ha-Ayin. Let them say the honest truth and not conceal it in supposed concern for the girls. This is against any sort of logic in the world. Neighbors should respect each other.
The Rosh Ha-Ayin municipal government responded that it was not in its power to forbid employment of Arabs in local stores, that there are laws governing such matters, and that if the rabbis wish to change them they should do so through the Knesset.
* former Jerusalem seat of the Israel’s chief rabbi
Jeremiah Haber, 12 Dec 2010
Recently a large number of Israeli municipal rabbis published a “manifesto” that forbids the renting or selling of flats to non-Jews in the land of Israel (Palestine). The publication of the manifesto has caused a public uproar, with the group being attacked by secular and liberal religious Jews on the one hand, and by Rabbi Shlomo Elyashiv, the leader of the “Lithuanian” school of haredi Jewish, on the other.
The manifesto, its publication and the response (which is not over yet) are all worthy of separate and detailed discussion. But here I will make a few points.
The manifesto, though authored and signed by rabbis, is not formulated as a statement of Jewish law, even the sort of statement that would be on a pashkivil/poster in orthodox neighborhoods. There are few citations of halakhic authorities, and no hint of disagreements or divergences within the literature. There is a confusion between two separate prohibitions, lo tehanem (lit. “You shall show them no mercy,” but understood by the rabbis as “You shall not give them any resting place in the land”), and lo yeshvu (lit., “they shall not dwell in the land.”) There is no recognition that some rabbinic authorities don’t view these prohibitions as applying nowadays for various reasons. As Rabbi Elyashiv (or his personal secretary pointed out), the leniency allowed by Rabbi Abraham ha-Kohen Kook that allows Jews to sell land the land to Arabs in the shmittah year, once a major dispute between religious Zionist rabbis and the haredim, assume that neither prohibition applies today (at least not in their full force) And there are arguments brought in the manifesto that have never been adduced in serious halakhic discussion before (e.g., “selling an apartment to a non-Jew lowers the price of the surrounding houses and causes monetary loss to Jews”; one could make the same argument to prohibit selling apartments to religious Jews in secular neighborhoods.)
This manifesto should be compared with one signed by leading haredi rabbis who opposed the Gaza disengagement five and a half years ago.
We wish to make manifest our opinion – the opinion of Torah (daas Torah) — that it is forbidden to sell land or a house in the Land of Israel to a gentile, even one who does not worship idols or an Ishmaelite (Arab), even where there is a great loss or emergency, for it is the opinion of all the early authorities that it is forbidden to sell land in the Land of Israel to a gentile who did not accept upon himself the seven Noahide commandments
Nissim Karelitz, Aharon Yehuda Lebi Steinman, Michal Yehuda Leifkowitz, Hayim Kanievsky, Zalman Nahman Goldberg
Note that the phrases introduced by “even” betray the halakhic complexity of the issue, although the last sentence overstates the case. In any event, it should be pointed out that the above haredi rabbis were reacting to a different circumstance – the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and not the sale or rental of flats to Israeli citizens. Still, this was a fairly unusual proclamation, solicited by the opponents of the withdrawal, and, as far as I know, unprecedented in other Israeli withdrawals. The relevance of lo tehanem to territorial compromise has been debated by everybody dealing with the subject. Rabbi Elyashiv himself was sympathetic to the rabbis opposing the disengagement, and his own position in the current case is hardly a liberal one. He, too, apparently forbids the sale of property to non-Jews if it can be done discreetly, but fears that the blowback to the public declaration will endanger Jews in Israel and abroad. The hard-line position of the haredi rabbis has its halakhic ancestry in the well known responsum of the Hazon Ish against Rabbi Kook’s leniency. The Hazon Ish labored to build an extremely strong brief against any sort of leniency in selling land in order to allow secular Zionist pioneers to work the land. It had nothing to do with the question of renting or selling flats to Arab residents of Israel.
What we have in the manifesto is not a halakhic document but a political/philosophical document that draws on certain Jewish precedent to give it weight. One can find similar documents authored by Muslim authorities, or simply tribalist bigots like the segregationists in the American South, or xenophobic politicians and legislators in today’s Europe (and in Israel). The voice may be the voice of Jewish tradition, but the underlying philosophy is that of tribalistic bigots everywhere. Take away the halakhic rhetoric and you will have the view of most Israeli Jews, who will not countenance a blanket law forbidding the sale of property to Arabs, but who will favor laws that allow communities to decide whether they want to accept Arabs as residents. The fact that advantaging your own kind means disadvantaging the other is not recognized by most Israelis, secular or religious.
The publication of the manifesto is interesting in its own right because its signatories are public officials, supported by the state. In my opinion, this should be the focus of the public response. Public officials have been disciplined in the past for voicing public opposition to the first Lebanese war; government employees are expected not to call to disobey laws that forbid discrimination in housing. As for the Jewish religious response, one should expect these rabbis not to be invited, honored, or included by the moderate orthodox. When the Orthodox Union, for example, publishes the sermons of such rabbis on their website, they should be called on it by the few liberal orthodox Jews left in that movement. Of course, this will have little effect, because of the downhill slide of much of modern orthodox Jewry into what one may call “Kahanism lite.”
As for the response- well, I suppose we should be thankful that most of the Israeli public (though agreeing with much of its discriminatory attitude towards gentiles) is still not ready to accept a blanket proclamation of this sort.
But, once again, serious Jews should ask themselves – what do we have to blame for this perversion of Judaism, and why it is so deeply entrenched in the Jewish state?
And the answer is simple. Take an intensely nationalist movement and interpret in the most ethnic way imaginable; then force the establishment of a state against the wishes of the inhabitants; give educational autonomy to the most illiberal elements of society; allow them to become drunk with the power over the Arabs; foster parochialism, narrow-mindedness, and religious chauvinism, take away the influence from gentile society and the fear of goyyim, and you have this extremely unattractive thing called “Israeli Judaism,” or at least a large part of it.
Has Israel been good for the Jews? Maybe. Has it been good for Jewish religion?
Hizhakta oti – you made me laugh.