JERUSALEM (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blasted a ruling by dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis that forbids renting homes to gentiles, and more specifically to Arabs.
Netanyahu said the ruling, which became public Tuesday, was inconsistent with democratic values.
The ruling comes less than two months after leading rabbis in Safed signed on to a letter drafted by the city’s chief rabbi calling on Jews not to rent to non-Jews in the northern Israeli city, as well as a month after rabbis in the haredi Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak issued a religious ruling forbidding residents to rent apartments to African refugees, echoing a similar ruling for southern Tel Aviv.
"How would we feel if someone said not to sell apartments to Jews?" The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying Tuesday evening at a Bible contest. "We would protest, and we do protest when it is said among our neighbors. It is forbidden that such things are said about Jews or Arabs."
Among those signing the letter are the chief rabbis of Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Letzion, Carmiel, Gadera, Afula, Nahariya, Herzliya, Nahariya and Pardes Hannah. Top national-religious Rabbi Shlomo Aviner signed the letter, as did Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, son of the Shas Party spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
The ruling states that renting to non-Jews and Arabs will deflate the value of the home and of homes in the area. It says that neighbors of those who are renting or considering selling to non-Jews or Arabs should first warn the neighbor personally, and if the behavior continues to notify the community. The offending landlord, according to the ruling, must be ignored and not be called to the Torah for an aliyah.
Israeli civil rights organizations and Knesset members criticized the ruling and called for rabbis who signed to be fired from their jobs. Municipal chief rabbis’ salaries are paid for by the state.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued a statement calling on Netanyahu to condemn the ruling and take action against those who signed it.
"Rabbis who are civil servants have an obligation to the entire public, including Israel’s Arab citizens" the statement said. "It is unthinkable that they would use their public status to promote racism and incitement."
Two U.S. Jewish groups, the Anti-Defamation League and the New Israel Fund, praised Netanyahu for his denunciation of the ruling.
"It is outrageous and unacceptable that rabbis across Israel are promoting blatant discrimination against non-Jews," the ADL said.
The NIF called on Netanyahu to set in motion the suspension of the municipal rabbis from their posts.