Israel faces an unrelenting onslaught from her myriad enemies. Despite her position as the only democracy in the region, much of the world sees her as an oppressive state, largely because of an orchestrated campaign of disinformation and demonization propagated by her Arab and Persian enemies, and perpetuated by complicit Western media.
However it seems these forces have an unwitting ally within Israel herself — the orthodox rabbinate.
In a recent move, 50 municipal rabbis have penned a document forbidding the sale or rental of apartments to non-Jews. In so doing, these orthodox religious leaders have lent credibility to the claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and diminished the ability of her defenders to stand against these claims.
The document goes on to issue none-too-subtle threats against any who fail to comply with the ban, including the threat of being shunned both socially and economically. According to Ynet, the document reads,
The neighbors and acquaintances of the seller or renter must warn him personally first and later they are allowed to make this matter public, distance themselves from him, avoid commercial ties, and so on.
Perhaps this does not sound terribly harsh compared to the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, who have declared any Palestinian selling land to Jews may be subject to the death penalty, but these are strong-arm tactics nonetheless.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately criticized the move, saying such a call contradicted Jewish values, and at a recent ceremony stated,
How would we feel if someone overseas said that it is forbidden to sell apartments to Jews? Such things should not be said, not by Jews and not by Arabs. Such things should not be said in a democratic country, especially not in a Jewish and democratic one.
Likewise, other rabbis and Israeli civil rights groups have deplored the document as being contrary to both democratic and Jewish values, and a distortion of the Torah.
But the damage has been done. The headline is now spreading far and wide, and Israel will once again bear the brunt of accusations that she is a racist, apartheid state, and a pale shadow of a true democracy. The voices of the many Israelis speaking against this decree will largely be downplayed by the media, if they are acknowledged at all, and another bomb will be added to the arsenal of those who seek to strip Israel of her legitimacy as a state.
There is some question about who was the intended target of this ban, and some claim it is directed primarily at foreigners; however the effect of this on Israel’s minority Arab citizens cannot be discounted. The ban does not exclude them, and because of this, one must recognize the inherent unfairness — in fact, illegality — of discriminating against Israeli citizens based entirely upon race.
The tragic irony is that Israel truly is a democratic and just nation, and her Arab citizens enjoy many rights and benefits that would be denied them in neighboring Arab states. Arab Israelis are free to work, vote, travel, own businesses, own property, have representation, or serve in government, and even seek redress for grievances against the government. In fact, the only legal distinction between Arabs and other Israeli citizens is that Arabs are not required to serve in the Israeli military. Yet these undeniable facts will once again be overshadowed due to a small minority of Israelis, and because such unsavory behavior meshes seamlessly with the image of Israel that her detractors seek to paint.
When Israel declared her independence in 1948, Arab leaders urged — and even threatened — Israeli Arabs to leave their homes, intending for Israel to be a short-lived state, following the massive Arab military action to come. The leaders of Israel implored the Arabs to stay and to become citizens, and they promised them the rights and freedoms equal to any other citizens of Israel. For a variety of reasons, most Arabs chose to leave, and to this day they claim the status of refugees. However, many Arabs elected to remain, and notwithstanding their frequent claims of second-class status, they have lived as equal citizens under Israeli law up to the present.
But a small group of religious hard-liners are determined to renege on the promises made by the fledgling Israeli state, to undermine her democratic values, to trample her laws, and to sully the image of Judaism around the world. Undoubtedly, these individuals believe they are acting in Israel’s defense, safeguarding her from elements who seek her destruction through infiltration and ever-increasing demographic pressure. At the end of the day, their fears may not be without basis, but their approach, far from safeguarding Israel, places her in greater peril.
Before his assassination in 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane was the founder of the Jewish Defense League, founder of the group Kach, and briefly served in the Israeli Knesset. Kahane vehemently advocated for the removal of all Arabs from Israel. Despite a small, devoted, and vocal following, who remain loyal to this day, his views were roundly denounced within Israel as racist. Kahane’s speeches before the Knesset were frequently boycotted, he was arrested numerous times (including a 6 month jail term for planning retaliatory attacks against Palestinians), and in 1985, he was ultimately barred from re-election, following the implementation of an amendment to bar “racist” candidates from Israeli elections.
The Israeli people and government pronounced Rabbi Kahane’s extremism out of bounds in the 1980s, yet today, a group of rabbis again seek to impose it by decree, and enforce it through the threat of social and economic isolation.
Through Prime Minister Netanyahu, they have been officially condemned, but that does not go far enough towards ameliorating the damage done to Israel’s standing as a free, democratic nation. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel should also condemn these actions. In addition, the people of Israel should take steps to tangibly demonstrate their revulsion for such discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish Israeli citizens — and a good start would be to pressure their government to halt taxpayer funding of any rabbi who promotes the violation of Israeli law.