The facts tell a different story

On the face of it, the Israeli rabbis who signed up to an edict forbidding Jews from selling or renting homes or land to non-Jews have scored a spectacular own-goal.On the face of it this edict, which appears to have originated with the Chief Rabbi of Sfat, contravenes Israeli law, which naturally prohibits discrimination on racial grounds.

Anticipating this argument one of the signatories, Yosef Sheinen, head of the Ashdod Yeshivah, made matters worse by reportedly declaring that "racism originated in the Torah. The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what Rashi interpreted."

Most of the rabbinical signatories are employees of the state. So there have been calls for their salaries to be blocked, for their employments to be suspended and for them to be put on trial for incitement.

Meanwhile, condemnations of them have rained down from some of the good and the great in Israeli society - including president Shimon Peres and prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi did not mince his words.

Two months ago, the Palestinian flag was flying in Safed’s market district

"Such things (he told a public meeting on 7 December) cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The state of Israel rejects these sayings."

And he added: "How would we feel if we were told not to sell an apartment to Jews? We would protest, and we protest now when it is said of our neighbours."

Meanwhile the edict has been pounced upon not merely by the enemies of the Jewish state but by those - including Jews in the Diaspora - who seek a fundamental change of direction in Israeli politics and policies.

Expressing their "distress" and likening the decree to a Chillul Hashem - a profanation of the Divine Name - some 900 rabbis from around the world (mainly from the USA but including some from the United Kingdom) have issued their own declaration (sponsored, I note, by the New Israel Fund) condemning the decree.

"We struggle (they insist) to maintain a strong, loving relationship between Jews outside of Israel and the Jewish state.

"Every day, that challenge grows more
difficult."

Yes, on the face of it the 200 or so Israeli holy men who signed up to the decree supporting the chief rabbi of Safed have scored a magnificent own goal. Is there anything to be said in their defence?

The fact is that there are facts of life to be
lived within Israel that have little if any relevance in the Jewish districts of New York, Miami or even London.

The fact is that in Safed, a gorgeous gem of a town situated in the Galilean hills, a well-intentioned invitation to local Muslims to take part in the renovation of the holy places of all faiths has led to the establishment there of a branch of the so-called Islamic Movement that identifies with Hamas and calls openly for the destruction of the Jewish state.

The fact is that members of the Sfat branch of the Islamic Movement have themselves taken part in acts of violence against Jews, and that the branch's leader, Ra'ed Salah, participated in the notorious Gaza flotilla.

The fact is that two months ago the Palestinian flag was photographed flying from the minaret of a renovated mosque in Sfat's market district.

In the UK, I would never dream of asking a minicab firm to make sure that my driver was not an Arab. In London the ethnicity of taxi drivers is of no concern to me.

But it is in Israel. Two years ago, booking a taxi from Jerusalem to Efrat, I was shocked to be asked whether I wanted a driver who was Arab, Druze or Jewish. But I quickly understood why this question had been asked.

And in the interests of my own personal safety, and that of my wife, I answered that I would prefer a Jew or a Druze.

So I condemn the Israeli rabbis not so much for what they said but for the way in which they said it.

All races, all ethnicities and all religious faiths in Israel must be treated with dignity and respect.

At the same time, Jewish sovereignty over the country as a whole must not be compromised, nor must the safety of its Jewish citizens be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, or in the interests of making a quick buck.

    Last updated: 3:47pm, December 24 2010