I recently revisited a piece written in 2001 by commentator Gil Troy entitled “Why I am a Zionist” and found it particularly relevant to an issue that has arisen within Israel.
Troy wrote, “I am a Zionist because I celebrate the existence of Israel, and like any thoughtful patriot, though I might criticise particular government policies I may dislike, I do not delegitimize the state itself” (see more).
The issue that has arisen is one that is not critical of a government policy and, in fact, the circumstances have been condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the sentiment remains the same. A religious ruling was signed earlier in the week seeking to forbid renting homes in Israel to gentiles (in particular Arabs). The ruling was signed by up to 50 Israeli Rabbis including dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis from Ramat Hasharon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Rishon Letzion, Carmiel, Gadera, Afula, Nahariya, Herzliya and Pardes Hannah among others (see more).
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El made this outrageous declaration, “We don’t need to help Arabs set down roots in Israel”. Their reasoning is that a Jew should get preference over a gentile when looking to rent land, and secondly, and much more alarmingly, to keep the Arab population from settling too deeply. Rabbi Yosef Scheinen of Ashdod justified the move by referring to the Torah, stating “Racism originated in the Torah… The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended.”
The move was immediately condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu when he declared, “How would we feel if someone overseas said that it is forbidden to sell apartments to Jews? Such things should not be said, not by Jews and not by Arabs. Such things should not be said in a democratic country, especially not in a Jewish and democratic one” (see more). He also stated that the Torah teaches to “love the stranger” and that if it was said about Jews, “we would protest, and we do protest when it is said among our neighbours” (see more).
To my mind the sentiment expressed by these rabbis goes entirely against the grain of the very foundation of the State of Israel and its Declaration of Independence which pledges to “foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religious, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations” (see more).
There is now a very strong call within Israel to bring disciplinary measures against these rabbis as a first step in their dismissal (see more).
Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said that he will look into the issue declaring that “the Attorney General believes that the comments attributed to the rabbis are seemingly problematic in a number of ways and are not emblematic of proper public behaviour… The legal aspect of the incident is more complicated. The attorney general has instructed the relevant parties in his office to check the criminal and disciplinary aspects raised by the rabbi’s statements” (see more).
There is a worrying trend coming from some rabbis in Israel concerning its minorities. You will recall that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef made appalling comments in late August that “Abu Mazen and all these evil people [the Palestinians] should perish from this world” (see more). This is of course the same man who just last week during the devastating fires in the Carmel quoted from the Babylonian Talmud that “the fire only exists in a place where Shabbat is desecrated” (see more). Safed’s chief rabbi Shmuel Eliahu made similar statements about property just a few weeks ago (see more).
A Jerusalem Post Editorial raises some very interesting points on the issue, stating “as a democratic state, Israel has an obligation to ensure that the basic human rights of all Israeli citizens – Jews and non-Jews alike – are faithfully protected. The state’s employment of hundreds of city and neighbourhood rabbis who express racist, xenophobic opinions upsets the delicate balance that must be maintained between Israel’s Jewish and democratic dimensions” (see more).
We should not and do not accept any form of racism. This is particularly true when it comes from our leaders, whether they be Jewish or otherwise and whether they be spiritual leaders or otherwise. When Fatah-controlled Palestinian television show sermons with Imams making statements such as “the Jews are the enemy of Allah”, “the Quran says Jews are evil” and “Jews are cancer that wants to rule the world” (see more) we condemn it in the highest terms and we ask why it is widely ignored by much of the mainstream media. When we learn that the Palestinian Authority has a law called the “Property Law for Foreigners” which describes the sale of land to Jews as an act of “national treason” punishable by the death penalty, we are rightly outraged (see more). We cannot accept similar conduct from religious leaders with a democratic Jewish state which is based on the fundamental principles of freedom, justice and peace for all her citizens. We must continue to advocate for an inclusive country of which we can be proud.