Amnesty International today condemned a religious ruling signed by dozens of Israel’s municipal chief rabbis that bans the renting or sale of homes to non-Jews.
“This ruling issued by religious leaders employed by the state of Israel, whose salaries are paid by public funds, clearly targets the Palestinian citizens who make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population, and highlights the continuing discrimination they face in housing and other areas,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
While the ruling is not official government policy, the rabbis issuing it include the influential Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, and his counterparts in a number of other Israeli cities and municipalities, all of whom are essentially government employees.
In October, Rabbi Eliyahu had written a letter urging Jews not to sell or rent apartments to non-Jews, apparently in response to Arab students seeking accommodation in order to attend a local college. It was signed by 18 other rabbis.
“The message these calls send to Palestinian citizens throughout Israel could not be clearer - that discrimination against Palestinian citizens seeking housing is backed by religious authorities,” said Philip Luther.
Rabbi Eliyahu’s October letter also called for action to be taken against Jews who rent or sell homes or apartments to Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
“The neighbours 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.
In November, the Israeli Minority Affairs Minister requested that the Justice Minister investigate Rabbi Eliyahu for incitement, with a view to suspending him from his post as municipal rabbi.
As far as Amnesty International is aware, the Justice Minister has yet to take action on the matter.
“The Israeli government, as a party to international human rights treaties that prohibit discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion, must repudiate this call by leading rabbis, take disciplinary measures against Rabbi Eliyahu and other state employees advocating racism, and work to facilitate access to housing and higher education for Palestinian citizens in Israel,” said Philip Luther.