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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Israeli Rabbis Urge Refusal to Rent to Arabs, Echoing Nuremberg Laws

In a move reminiscent of Nazi-era Nuremberg Race Laws, a group of radical Orthodox rabbis led by the chief rabbi of Tzfat urged fellow Israeli Jews to refuse to rent apartments to non-Jews:
Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis have signed on to a new religious ruling that would forbid the rental of homes to gentiles in a move particularly aimed against Arabs, Haaretz has learned.
The religious ruling comes just months after a group of 18 prominent rabbis, including the chief rabbi of Safed, signed a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.
…The rabbis’ letter…urges Jewish owners of apartments to reconsider renting their properties to Arabs since it would deflate the value of their homes as well as those in the neighborhood.
“Their way of life is different than that of Jews,” the letter stated. “Among [the gentiles] are those who are bitter and hateful toward us and who meddle into our lives to the point where they are a danger.”
The rabbis also urge neighbors of anyone renting or selling property to Arabs to caution that person. After delivering the warning, the neighbor is then encouraged to issue notices to the general public and inform the community.
“The neighbors 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.
What is especially significant about this development is that the municipal rabbis are employees of the State, which means that the nation is, in effect, endorsing their views…unless it renounces them.  And so far it hasn’t.  The attorney general has refused to take up the matter.  Nor has the chief rabbi of Israel, who is technically the boss of the municipal rabbis.  Tzfat’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, is among the most extremist in his views of Palestinian Israelis and many are seeking to bring a charge of incitement against him for this and his previous remarks.
Here is the chief rabbi’s reply:
nazi era anti jewish laws
The Chief Rabbinate is responsible for matters of Jewish law and professional issues pertaining to municipal rabbis. Theoretically, the two chief rabbis can summon a municipal rabbi for a disciplinary hearing if the attorney general concludes he has exceeded his authority or acted improperly. Such action has rarely been taken.
Oded Weiner, director general of the Chief Rabbinate, told Haaretz that the institution “does a great deal for interreligious dialogue, worldwide and with the Palestinian Authority [!].” But Weiner added that “every rabbi in his city says what is in his heart.”
Weiner said that in the past, chief rabbis handled such issues quietly with the individuals involved. “I have not seen the letter the municipal rabbis signed,” he said. “When we receive a query from any quarter, I’m sure the chief rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate will consider the matter.” Weiner said Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger would not take the issue to the council on his own initiative.
Apparently, decentralization of authority works well for rabbis when they wish to permit themselves to express the overt racism that “is in their hearts.”  But were a rabbi to be overly sympathetic to Palestinians (little likelihood of that I recognize), then all of a sudden the chief rabbi would invoke the power invested in him to take swift action.
In response, a group of prominent Israelis have demanded the immediate firing of the state-funded rabbis:
A group of public figures, intellectuals and academics have asked [attorney general] Weinstein to immediately suspend any public servants among the rabbis who signed the document, those “who trample underfoot the pledges of the Declaration of Independence on which Israel was founded, turn Judaism into racism and openly break the law prohibiting incitement to racism.”
Israeli blogger Idan Landau and others have noticed the ironic historic echo of the Nazi-era race laws which severely restricted social, commercial, sexual and professional contacts between Jews and non-Jews.  Interestingly, Landau displays this 1939 document which allows non-Jews to break leases signed with Jewish tenants and generally seeks ways of constricting Jews so they will be forced to live only in Jewish-owned property.  Even here though, the Nazi authorities did not explicitly reject the notion of a non-Jew renting to a Jew.  By the time they passed Law 234 (presumably after 1939) though, even this was withdrawn:
Law #234 told landlords that they could no longer rent to Jews. This made many Jews homeless, since a Jew kicked out of his home could not find any other place to rent. These Jews were then picked up by the police and sent to murder camps.
Israeli authorities must address this issue firmly or they risk become facilitators of the kind of racism and hatred which Jews suffered in Nazi-era Germany.  And a prime minister’s rap on the knuckles delivered mainly for foreign consumption is not enough.  There must be consequences.  Isn’t it enough that the Carmel fires have made Israel a punchline for bad jokes, that the country should allow this too to add to the black eye?  Diaspora Jewish leaders too have a responsibility to staunch the blood draining from the wounds of Israeli democracy through such wounds.
Do we really want to go down that road (again)?

And lest anyone attempt to argue that these rabbis are pure crackpots not representing anyone, I remind you that the Israel Democracy Institute 2010 survey found that 46% of Israeli Jews said they would be “bothered” by having Israeli Palestinians as neighbors.  This was higher than the number which would be troubled by having gay, mentally ill, foreign workers, or ultra-Orthodox neighbors.
H/t to Sol Salbe.

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