Settler rabbi arrested for 'incitement'

Demonstrators protesting against the arrest of settler spiritual leader Rabbi Dov Lior this week

Demonstrators protesting against the arrest of settler spiritual leader Rabbi Dov Lior this week

The arrest this week of the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Dov Lior, on suspicion of incitement has provoked outrage from the religious right and a rare statement by the Attorney General that "no one is above the law".

Rabbi Lior, one of the spiritual leaders of the settlers, had already been questioned by police five months ago. Investigators wanted to ask him about a rabbinical approval - or haskama - he wrote in 2009 for the book Torath Ha'Melech (Laws of the King) that dealt with the issue of killing non-Jewish civilians at time of war.

The Attorney General's office decided a year ago that the book contained incitement to violence and police have also questioned its co-authors, rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yossef Elitzur. The police also called in for questioning a number of senior rabbis who had written letters of approval for the book.

Rabbi Lior refused to go to the police, claiming that they had no right to question a rabbi over a religious matter. And when police issued an arrest warrant for him, he publicly castigated Deputy State Attorney, Shai Nitzan, who had given the order for the probe. Rabbi Lior told his followers "there is no way that a little clerk in some government office will tell rabbis what to say".

On Monday afternoon, while being driven from his home in the settlement town of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, to Jerusalem, he was arrested by detectives and taken for questioning at a police station, from where he was released after an hour. In response, his followers tried to block the main entrance to Jerusalem and protested outside the Supreme Court, trying forcibly to enter the building. Twenty-five protesters were arrested.

Chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger published a statement criticising the arrest, and 25 right-wing and religious Knesset members sent a letter of protest to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, calling for "an end of the witch-hunt against rabbis".

Rabbi Lior said after being released that rabbis "don't need the commissar's permission to publish a book" and that rabbis "have nothing to do with violence… their purpose is to educate their students, about what is good and from what to keep a distance".

Several Likud MKs were among those who signed the letter atttacking the arrest, and it took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 24 hours to give his backing to the justice system. In a short statement that did not mention Rabbi Lior or his arrest, he said that "Israel is a state of law, and the law obliges us all. I call upon all citizens of Israel to keep it."

This was not enough for State Attorney Moshe Lador, who told the media: "If the legal system decided that Rabbi Lior should be questioned, then he will be questioned."

    Last updated: 1:37pm, June 30 2011