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Yariv Oppenheimer in Maariv: Rampant Racism in Safed

Rampant Racism in Safed

Ma'ariv, November 9, 2010

by Yariv Oppenheimer

An old man rescued the lost honor of Israel's democracy, of Judaism and of the entire country this week. Despite protests, Halachic decisions and threats to burn down his house, 89-year-old Eliyahu Tzvieli, a resident of Safed, decided to rent out his apartment to two Arab students  and thus to come out with his head held high against the racism and hatred of minorities that is permeating Israeli society.

   His lonely but strong stance against Safed's chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, and his thugs who have filled the city with hate posters, have honed even further just how violent and racist our society has become and just how much the framework that is meant to protect minority rights in a democratic society has ceased to function. One can only imagine the public outcry if the chief rabbi of Safed prohibited renting rooms to Ethiopians, Sephardim, Ashkenazim or secular Israelis. Oh, then the land would shake. Every politician around would stand in line to jump at the chance to be interviewed and to protest the racism and discrimination. But when Rabbi Eliyahu published a Halachic decision forbidding Jews from renting out rooms to Arab students, the land was quiet and apathetic. No protests, no demonstrations, barely a letter to the editor. Apparently, it's a little scary to leave the warm embrace of the consensus and to demonstrate for Arab rights, residents of this country whose only sin is their desire to study, to become educated, and eventually to join the work force.

   Student leaders, who long ago promised to fight against apathy and in favor of a just and fair society, did not see fit to protest loudly against the discrimination suffered by their fellow students, choosing instead to focus their energies on cruelly demonstrating against the Haredi public because of government payouts to married yeshiva students. When it comes to the student's pockets, or to a populist  fight against the Haredim, even university presidents are prepared to go on strike in order to get students out to protest. But when the issue is real solidarity of the student population with their Arab colleagues who are discriminated against and humiliated only because of their race and religion, there is an overwhelming silence  from the halls of academia. The only voices of dissent are to be heard from the noble-minded leftists.

   It is not surprising that the political establishment has also been silent. The Labor Party mumbles, Likud Party princes are mum as they prefer to forego the Beitar ideal of honor in favor of the Libermanesque rhetoric and ideology that has taken over the halls of the Knesset. Instead of calling for the removal of the Safed chief rabbi and condemning his Halachic ruling, the government has chosen to promote a bill that would legally enable settlements to accept or reject potential members based on their religion or ethnicity or in other, slightly less laundered, words, based on race.

   Those who expected redemption to come from the legal establishment have also been disappointed. The justice minister, attorney general, state attorney -- no one has instructed police to open an investigation against the Safed chief rabbi for incitement to racism.  Like the days before Rabin was assassinated, violence and racism rule the street, but all is as usual at the Justice Ministry. Clashing with supporters of Rabbi Kahane is not on the agenda for Israel's law enforcement authorities.

   Years from now, when our children and grandchildren ask us where we were and what we were doing when racism was out of control in Israel and citizens' rights were being trampled with the agreement of the law enforcement establishment, most of us will mumble and try to justify ourselves. A few, like Eliyahu Tzvieli, who dared to face down the frenzied crowd, will be lucky and on that day will be able to say out loud that they had nothing to do with this.