JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s attorney general said the candidacy of Shmuel Eliyahu for Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel raised legal difficulties and could not be defended by his office.
While Yehuda Weinstein cannot officially bar Eliyahu from running for chief rabbi, the attorney general said Monday that he could not defend the rabbi should a challenge be filed against his candidacy with the Supreme Court.
Weinstein announced his decision at a hearing after reviewing Eliyahu’s responses to several questions about racist statements the rabbi had made. Weinstein had received several requests to prohibit Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, from running on the basis of the statements.
Meanwhile, Esawi Frej, a lawmaker from the Meretz Party, on Tuesday filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court to prevent Eliyahu from running. The case is scheduled to be held in late August, just days before the election.
Eliyahu reportedly has said he will not drop out of the race.
“On Tisha b’Av night, the attorney general chose to trample on democracy,” Eliyahu’s office said in a statement following reports of Weinstein’s decision. “It seems that the attorney general, who has permitted serious acts of members of Knesset against IDF soldiers and given support to the heads of the Islamic Movement, has decided to hold an ad hoc tribunal against Rabbi Eliyahu and turn himself into a prosecutor, judge and hangman.
Eliyahu wrote in a response to Weinstein’s inquiry about his alleged racist comments that he did not make many of the remarks attributed to him and that some were distorted by others.
Eliyahu has instructed Jewish residents of Safed not to rent or sell property to Arabs and, in 2010, he told the Israeli daily Maariv that “a Jew should not flee from Arabs. A Jew should make the Arabs flee. There is a silent war going on here for land” and “most of the violence in Israeli society stems from the Arabs.”
In his letter to the attorney general, Eliyahu said, “I don’t understand what the problem is. Must I, as a rabbi, explain why I am against marriages between Jews and foreigners? Must I explain why I prohibit same-sex marriages? Must I explain why I am in favor of becoming religious?”
The American Jewish Committee said in a statement issued Monday that it was “deeply concerned” about Eliyahu’s candidacy. AJC rarely comments on internal Israeli elections.
“Tragically, Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements undermine the social fabric of Israeli society and the core tenets of Judaism,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris.
The Anti-Defamation League on Monday welcomed Weinstein’s recommendation against Eliyahu’s candidacy. ADL has publicly objected to certain positions adopted by Eliyahu.
“Rabbi Eliyahu’s racist statements and extremist views make him ill-suited to serve in such a high-profile and important Israeli government position,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director.