borderline racist, sexist and homophobic statements made by the leading candidate in the Sephardi chief rabbinate election have caused outrage in Israel, with Knesset members and Israeli citizens calling for his disqualification.
Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, of the national religious movement, has ruled against selling or letting property to Arabs and has equated homosexuality with murder.
He has also called for women to refrain from serving in the police force, and has condemned “secular culture”.
“He is a man of severe bigotry,” said Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz last week. “This is the man who will represent the Judaism and Zionism of the state of Israel? Have we gone crazy?”
Rabbi Eliyahu still enjoys the support of the Jewish Home party, although it denied official endorsement.
On Monday, Israeli intellectuals and artists gathered up a petition to bar Jewish Home from the coalition over its support for Rabbi Eliyahu.
The letter, titled “Black Flag”, was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition parties.
The letter stated that Jewish Home party “must be dealt with in the same way we demanded that Austria deal with Jorg Haider’s party… that the Knesset dealt with Meir Kahane’s party. Complete denunciation.
“Every minute that this is not done, another dark smear appears on the state of Israel… it is a complete humiliation of all the victims of racism in Israel, in the world and in Jewish history,” it read.
This is not the first time that Rabbi Eliyahu has triggered controversy.
In 2004, he called for segregated Arab and Jewish colleges in Safed and, in 2006, was indicted for racial incitement, though the charge was eventually dropped.
Nor is he the only candidate accused of prejudice.
The preferred candidate of the strictly-Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, son of Shah spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, provoked an outcry when he stated that only modest, religious women should run for public office, and that their husbands should accompany them to mixed-gender meetings.
Two strictly Orthodox rabbis — one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi — lead the chief rabbinate.
Their entitlement to hefty government salaries and their jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, conversions and Jewish immigration has drawn criticism from secular and non-Orthodox Jews, who say the institution is irrelevant.
Elections take place once a decade, and this year will be held on July 24 in Jerusalem.