JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s attorney general said that the candidacy of Shmuel Eliyahu for Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel raised legal difficulties and could not be defended by his office.
While Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein cannot officially bar Eliyahu from running for chief rabbi, he said 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 Monday afternoon, after reviewing Eliyahu’s responses to several questions about racist statements he had made in the past. Weinstein had received several requests to prohibit Eliyahu from running on the basis of the statements.
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. 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’s office said in a statement following reports of Weinstein’s decision.
“Weinstein, who understands that a big majority on the electoral committee will elect Rabbi Eliyahu, decided to break the rules and in an unprecedented step, without authority, without a hearing or a verification of the claims, created a new reality according to which a candidate who is not liked the legal elite cannot enjoy the defense of the authorities,” the statement said.
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.
“Some were never said by me, and some were said in contexts that were radicalized and presented out of the Torah context in which they were said,” Eliyahu wrote in a letter to the attorney general on Sunday.
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?”
He added, “I distinguish between people, Jews and non-Jews, who we are all ordered to respect, and enemies seeking to conspire against us.”