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Israeli rabbis` racist decree strikes at the soul of Judaism
More than 50 of Israel`s leading rabbis have issued a religious decree forbidding Jews from renting or selling homes or land to non-Jews – namely, Arabs, migrant workers and African refugees. The letter was signed by rabbis across the country (many of whom are employed by the state as municipal religious leaders) and urged Jews to first warn and then `ostracise` fellow Jews who disobey the edict.
It`s just the latest wave in a rising tide of religious fascism.
In Safed, less than two months ago, more than a dozen rabbis urged Jewish landlords to refrain from renting to Arab college students. This summer, a group of Tel Aviv rabbis signed a letter instructing Jews not to rent to `infiltrators` – the state`s word for African refugees, most of whom have escaped genocide in Sudan or a brutal dictatorship in Eritrea. Ten estate agents answered the call.
And, in November, the municipality of Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, launched a campaign to rid the area of migrant workers and African refugees. By the end of the month, officials – government employees – were going door to door telling foreigners they had to leave.
The latest move, first publicised on Tuesday on Ynet`s Hebrew site, is the largest step that Israel`s religious community has taken against non-Jews. And it is, perhaps, the most alarming. Rabbis from all over the country signed the proclamation. And they didn`t try to hide their intentions. `We don`t need to help Arabs set down roots in Israel,` one remarked to Haaretz.
`Racism originated in the Torah,` another said.
For argument`s sake, let`s set aside the fact that the Palestinians had roots here long before the state of Israel existed. Let`s pretend that they are `strangers` in this land, as these rabbis would surely claim. And let`s turn to the same Torah that this group of rabbis is using as an excuse for racism and incitement. In Exodus, we are commanded not to expel others but to remember our exile in Egypt and to care for the strangers among us.
And, again for argument`s sake, I`m going to set aside my many objections to Zionism and go to another root – Herzl, the founding father of the movement. What did he say about non-Jews? In his book Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State, Herzl wrote that `we should accord … honourable protection and equality` to `men of other creeds and different nationalities` because `we have learnt toleration in Europe`.
Tuesday`s proclamation – an act of state-sanctioned racism – shows that certain Jewish people have forgotten their history.
The decree was an open declaration of war. It`s a strike against the soul of Judaism. And if the religious fascists win, what will we be left with? A country that is Jewish in numbers but not in spirit.
It could be argued that those who signed the proclamation – a group of men who are distorting Judaism to the point that I refuse to acknowledge them as rabbis – are extremists, that they don`t represent the majority. Even if that is true, it doesn`t change the fact that many are government employees. And, so far, the state has done nothing to put them in check.
Israel is handing the reins over to religious fascists – men who say Jews shouldn`t rent to Arabs, migrant workers, or African refugees; settlers who build illegally and imperil any hope for peace and Palestinian sovereignty.
It`s an ominous sign for the future. What`s next? Will they find a way to claim that those of us who speak out, people like me, are no longer Jews? Will we then be subject to religious decrees that ban employers from hiring us and demand that landlords evict us?
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