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State's attempt to challenge radical rabbis so meek it will backfire

The state’s meek attempt to detain two prominent rabbis who’ve been evading police summons for weeks only underscores how helpless the state has become before the decentralised rabbinical church.

This morning, police briefly detained prominent rabbi Yaakov Yossef on suspicion of incitement by virtue of giving his blessing to the notorious King’s Torah tractate, which deals with the permissibility of killing unarmed Gentiels, including children, during conflict . Yossef is the son of Shas spiritual leader and one of the pre-eminent Halachic thinkers of the 20th century, Ovadia Yossef; he is also a former Shas MK and a Jerusalem municipal council member, and heads a prominent yeshiva. He was ambushed in a complex operation by the National Fraud and Serious Crime Investigation Unit of the police as he was traveling in his car, taken to a police station, questioned there most respectfully for under 30 minutes (a fact the police were keen to stress) and asked for fingerprints; he answered no questions and declined to give his prints.

Meanwhile, his students tried to start a riot.  Some tires were set on fire in his home neighbourhood, while a handful of students attempted to block the new Jerusalem light train (which doesn’t yet carry passengers and is set to continue with a careful series of test drives at least until Judgement Day). All this is a faint echo of the riots and uproar caused by last week’s arrest and detention of Kiryat Arba rabbi Dov Lior, who also gave his blessing to King’s Torah; although Lior was detained for less than an hour, main roads were blocked, the home of the deputy attorney general was stormed, and a few days later, the justice minister himself was assaulted during prayer. Lior himself – chief rabbi of the settlement of Kiryat Arba over Hebron – rather comically assured his students a day later that “we have a commitment to all mankind, to lift it up. The people of Israel are never going to take over another people or to take away somebody else’s country.”

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but it seems quite reasonable police would be concerned by the publication of a religious tractate legitimising the killing of civilians – considering the book is aimed at a public which automatically puts the authority of clerics over the authority of the secular state.

But the rabbis were detained not so much for their role in the book, as in for refusing to show up for questioning.  And what’s really disconcerting is how uncharacteristically meek the police went about its business: Both rabbis were detained only after ignoring summons for weeks on end. Yaakov Yossef, specifically, rubbed the state’s face in the mud after showing up and mingling with top police officers at the inauguration of the new Jerusalem District commander, Nisso Shaham, even as he was wanted for questioning; Shaham, incidentally, is reported by Maariv to be “close” to the rabbi. Netanyahu would not criticise either rabbi, limiting his statements to a mumble how everyone is equal before the law (not), and left the embattled deputy attorney general high and dry, not offering him even a word of support. Today’s the outrage over Yossef’s half-hour detention of the rabbi was carried mainly by right-wing MKs;  Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), arguably the Knesset’s no.1 homophobe and misogynist, decried this attack on the freedom of speech and denied either the rabbis or the book had anything to do with intolerance. The only public figure of any serious power to criticise Yossef himself was his own father, Rabbi Ovadia, who said his son was a”fool” for not going to police when they asked him to.

All of which can’t help but make me think that the roll back has now gone past deconstructing the welfare state and returning to the early 20th century, and is now galloping joyfully down to the early renaissance/late Middle Ages, when semi-secular state rulers tussled for power with the clergy, and when cardinals had their own retinue of armed and unarmed supporters to secure their very literal invincibility over worldly institutions. If the state actually wanted to assert itself as supreme to the decentralised rabbinical church, it should have acted considerably more decisively in this affair and in countless other similar clashes. But Israel is becoming more religious year by year, and it’s likely the best and the worst decisions here in the coming decades will be made by people of faith. It could be argued that the state is trying to tactfully send a signal to the rabbis that they’re not above the law; but frankly, the kid-gloved attempt at enforcing secular law on religious leaders look more like an attempt to go down swinging.  So far, the only noticeable effect of the detentions is to the rabbis’ stance as superior to law, and to hand them an overhyped and amplified halo of martyrdom – without gaining any more clout for secular authority.

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    1. Ben Israel

      Don’t worry,the High Priests of the Left are also dealt with VERY gently by the authorities. In fact, whereas some of the Rabbis have been detained for short periods of time, the police NEVER even bother to question Leftists who call for violence. Among them was Ze’ev Sternhell who called for Arab terrorist to kill settlers (G-d forbid) but not Israelis like himself, saying that would encourage support for their cause by Israeli Left/Progressives. There was a call for him to be investigated, but the State Prosecutor’s office said the magic words…”freedom of speech” and the whole matter was dropped. There are other examples.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thank you Dimi. In the West we always hear about Muslim religious extremists, but far too infrequently do we read about Jewish religious extremists. As a secular humanist, I have sympathy for neither. Why should we be worrying about the one and not the other?

      David Ben Gurion must surely be turning in his grave.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Deïr Yassin

      I would appreciate if “Ben Israel” (in fact an American immigrant) aka “I-like-Ike52” could give us any serious proofs – i.e. none of his fascists friends – of Zeev Sternhell calling for Arabs to kill settlers. As far as I know, settler nutcases tried to kill Sternhell, leaving a bomb at his front door.
      Until serious proofs, I will take the right to call Ben Israel aka I-like-Ike52 a LIAR !

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    4. Noam W

      This is just one massive tragedy of errors.

      Israeli society, while fragile, is still robust enough to sustain manifestos of the putrid kind put out by Shapiro. These rabbis should never have been summoned because they endorse his paper.

      This is not to say that they should have been fired from their state paid positions, but that is about the extent of it. The rest, is a little like the Shabak interviewing my friends on the left. It is intimidation for the sake of intimidation and has no place in a democracy.

      From there on, it is all fruit of the poisoned tree.

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    5. Ben Israel

      Regarding Sternhell:


      Regarding me being an oleh from the US, will, I plead guilty. President Shimon Peres is an immigrant from Poland, Amir Peretz, the fellow who ran the Lebanon II war is an immigrant from Morocco, Bernard Avishai is an immmigrant from Canada, Dimi is an immigrant from the former USSR, Lisa Goldman is an immigrant from Canada, etc, etc.

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      I think that there’re 2 separate issues: whether or not the various people should’ve been summoned for interrogation and whether or not once summoned they should comply with the law.
      I have no opinion about the first issue. But I see the refusal to comply with a legal order as, well, against the law, irrespective of the former issue.
      The police and the legal system are sometimes wrong, but they’re still part of the foundation of the democratic state system, which supports other means of protest and requests for change.

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    7. Deïr Yassin

      @ ‘Ben Israel’ aka ‘I-Like-Ike52’
      You use wikipedia, a very biased and non-authoritative source, to claim that Sternhell called for Arabs to kill settlers.
      On your link to Sternhell’s wiki-page it says:
      “His OPPONENTS tend to claim that Sternhell’s writings support terrorism and promote state violence against Jewish settlers in the West Bank”.
      This is from an article by Gil Ronen at Arutz Sheva, notoriouly pro-settler fascists, and thus close friends of yours !
      You claimed at “Israel Reconsidered” that you’re a journalist. Holy shit! Fortunately, we have places like this to compensate your kind of ‘journalists’. I think I can continue to call you a liar.
      I’ve heard Sternhell on many occassions, he’s a convinced Zionist, and that you find him exteme tell us more about you than about Sternhell.
      Dimi might be from the USSR, he came as a kid, and he doesn’t pretend, as you, that he has more right to the land than the native Palestinians. You came as an adult knowing that you were going to squat on stolen land, and your anti-Arab bias is just sickening.

      Wikipedia for beginners:
      And for the people who pretend to follow God’s Law:

      Reply to Comment
    8. phil

      The rabbis refused to present themselves for questioning, leaving the cops with no option but to seek arrest warrants

      Regardless of whether the cops had grounds to question them or not, if the courts saw fit to issue arrest warrants then as citizens of the state the rabbis were legally obliged to make themselves available

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ben Israel

      Deir Yassin (or maybe I’ll call you “Har Nof”-that’s the name of the area today).
      Okay, I see that you call everyone who disagrees with you a liar, so there is no point in brining evidence about Sternhell. He himself admitted he said it in his interview with Ari Shavit in Ha’aretz, but I couldn’t find the link. He is hardly the only Leftist who has called for violence against the Right and the settlers.
      Regarding Dimi’s exemption from stealing Arab land because he came when he was young, what about Lisa Goldman, Bernard Avishai who have posted here at “972” who came to Israel as adults. Avishai even admits he lives in what was an Arab house before 1948?

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    10. Shoded Yam

      “…Avishai even admits he lives in what was an Arab house before 1948?”
      And has also, on more than one occasion, mentioned that if it would bring peace he would leave his home in Jerusalem. And unlike some, he wasn’t provided with any incentives to live there. Did not recieve an interest free mortgage or discounted utilities and actually paid full market price for that home. But we don’t need to mention any names. I’ll just look over in the general diection of the occupied territories and whistle.

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    11. Deïr Yassin

      No, I don’t call everybody who doesn’t agree with me a liar, but you evidently are one.
      We’re still waiting for a serious link (even your Arutz Sheva-thug didn’t say what you pretend) proving that Ze’ev Sternhell called for Arabs to kill settlers.
      Now you start talking about other Leftists and you change from ‘calling Arabs to kill settlers’ to ‘calling for violence against the Right and settlers’. That’s called “manipulation”. It can’t be that difficult to find that link !
      I don’t care about Bernard Avishai or Lisa Goldman: they are not the ones posting self righteous and ethnic supremacist crap on this blog and elsewhere. You are !

      Reply to Comment
    12. NormanF

      I support the rule of law. That said, Israel’s racism law should be repealed. I don’t want a leftist, an Arab, a Kahanist or a rabbi summoned by the police to be questioned on their thoughts. Its none of the police’s business what Didi Redier thinks or writes, what Ahmed Tibi thinks or writes, what Meir Kahane thought and wrote about or what Dov Lior thought and wrote. No one should be questioned about whether their ideas meet the state’s official approval. The police should arrest those who do harm to others. It not act as an official thought police – this incompatible with democracy. Someday, the racism law is going to backfire on Israel’s Left when Shai Nitzan will no longer be around to muzzle the Right for them.

      Reply to Comment