July 12, 2013
The Honorable Naftali Bennett
Minister of Religious Affairs and Economics and Trade
Dear Minister Bennett,
We are troubled by reports that a majority of the members of the Habayit Hayehudi party have announced they would support a candidacy of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu for the position of Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, without giving adequate consideration to Rabbi Eliyahu’s record of inappropriate, offensive and, at times, racist statements and positions about Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.
The Anti-Defamation League has publicly objected to certain positions adopted by Rabbi Eliyahu, including the use of his capacity as Chief Rabbi of Safed to direct Jewish residents not to rent apartments to Arabs, a matter that was subjected to an official Ministry of Justice investigation. Rabbi Eliyahu also reportedly made disturbingly extreme remarks regarding indiscriminately bombing Palestinians in response to rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, saying that “If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand. And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."
In 2012, ADL communicated with Magen David Adom (MDA) our concerns over Rabbi Eliyahu’s appointment to the head of MDA’s rabbinical committee.
Because Israel’s Chief Rabbis serve as the most significant religious authorities in Israel, they are also role models for many Israelis. Additionally, they are seen as important figures in Jewish and other faith communities in the US and around the world. We are concerned that Rabbi Eliyahu’s racist statements and extremist views make him ill-suited to serve in such a high-profile and visible Israeli government position.
We recognize that the process of selecting a chief rabbi is a highly complex one, perhaps even more so in this election period than in previous times. As the leader of your party and as Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs, your voice is an important one that can help guide the views of members of Habayit Hayehudi and others who may be considering support for Rabbi Eliyahu’s candidacy.
We respectfully urge you to publicly express your strong disagreement with the offensive and racist views expressed by Rabbi Eliyahu and, should Rabbi Eliyahu decide to be a candidate, to support the candidacy of a Sephardic religious leader who does not harbor and express racist and divisive views.
Abraham H. Foxman