It wasn’t rioting Palestinian protesters making headlines yesterday, but rather right-wing religious Jews opposing the arrest of Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba.
Lior was detained by police and questioned in relation to his endorsement of the controversial book “Torat Hamelech” (The King’s Torah) by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, which justifies the killing of non-Jews. Lior and two other prominent rabbis, Yosef Ginsburg and Yaakov Yosef, endorsed the book. Ginsburg was investigated a year ago, but Yosef and Lior had refused to cooperate with the police.
The police will hand over their evidence to the State Prosecutor’s Office, and the final determination as to whether to indict the rabbis for incitement to racism or violence will be made by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
Upon hearing of Lior’s hour-long detainment, the chief rabbis of Israel, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, released a statement conveying their concern about “the severe damage to the dignity of an important rabbi and rabbinic judge, one of Israel’s greatest rabbis.” However, they also warned people against protesting Lior’s questioning by police.
At least 300 angry protesters ignored the chief rabbis’ plea and blocked the main road leading to Jerusalem, as well as other streets in the capital, with burning tires. Others attempted to storm the Supreme Court building, and 17 protesters were arrested, including two who had tried to break into the Jerusalem home of deputy state prosecutor Shai Nitzan. Nitzan, who is reportedly abroad, has been given special police protection because of threats from right-wing extremists.
The right-wing Legal Forum for the Land of Israel issued a statement denouncing Lior’s detainment for questioning, and asserting that a rabbi should enjoy the same freedom of speech as a university professor. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel defended the police’s right to bring the rabbi in for questioning in regard to possible incitement, but also reminded the public about the general imperative to protect free expression.
Yigal Walt, however, was not as sanguine about the event in an op-ed he wrote for Ynet early today. He asserted that in the view of the protesters, “The Torah, as they interpret it, takes precedence over law and order. Israeli courts have sent a former president to jail and are currently hearing a case against our former prime minister, but a rabbi is above the law, we are now told.” He sees Monday’s riots as “a wake up call” for those who still believe in Jewish unity. “The State of Israel at this time is home to distinct population groups that are drawing further apart. The gap will soon become unbridgeable; some say we are already there,” he posited ominously.