A number of leading rabbis who signed on to a religious ruling to forbid renting homes to gentiles – a move particularly aimed against Arabs – defended their decision on Tuesday with the declaration that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews.
Dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis signed on to the ruling, which comes just months after the chief rabbi of Safed initiated a call urging Jews to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.
Needless to say, the reaction to this noxious ruling has been nothing short of thunderous throughout Israel and the Jewish world. Israeli politicians from Netanyahu on down have publicly called out the rabbis on their racism. The New Israel Fund is disseminating “Rabbis Against Religious Discrimination” a statement that calls upon Israeli rabbis to “take a strong public stand” against “this painful distortion of our tradition.” At last count, 880 rabbis from around the world have signed on. Even the ADL has joined the fray in denouncing the ruling.
It’s been heartening to hear such an immediate and powerful Jewish communal response. Still, for all of the brouhaha, I’m struck – and fairly troubled – that there has been very little discussion of the fact that these rabbis are on the government payroll at all.
Indeed, it’s very easy to criticize rabbis such as this, but in truth, the mere existence of racist rabbis in Israel shouldn’t come as much of a shock to us. Truth be told, prominent Israeli rabbis have been disseminating xenophobia for some time now. Every religion has its religious extremist “spokespeople” – and Judaism is certainly no different on this score.
No, the real problem here is not the horrid personal beliefs of a handful of individual rabbis – the core issue is a political system that sees no problem in granting state authority to them – or to any clergy, for that matter. For me, this is the most disturbing aspect of this whole sorry episode: at the end of the day, these rabbis are ultimately part of a larger infrastructure of intolerance that inevitably results from wedding religion to nation-statism.
I was very happy to read that some left-wing Israeli politicians have gone as far as to call for the firing of the rabbis in question, but in the end, I’m just not convinced that this problem ultimately stems a few “rogue employees.” The real problem, I fear, has to do with a nation that claims to be both Jewish and democratic – but is finding it increasingly difficult to square that circle.