Hero’s funeral in Israel for Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a repugnant racist and war crimes advocate

by Yaniv Reich on June 8, 2010

Israel’s leaders are tripping over themselves to pay respects to the recently deceased Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and thereby earn themselves some street cred with Israel’s religious ultra-nationalists.

A Biography of Support for Terrorism and War Crimes

Eliyahu was the “spiritual leader of the national religious movement in Israel” who served previously as the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel from for over ten years (1983—1993) and who sat on the Supreme Rabbinical Council in Jerusalem.  He was an enormously important figure to the settler movement as well as the religious and ultra-nationalist parties Shas, National Union, which now sit in the coalition government.  In 1950, In April 1950, he helped to found an extremist group called Brit Hakanaim, the goal of which was to impose Jewish religious law on the state of Israel and whose activities caused Eliyahu to be sentenced to 10 months in prison.

For years Eliyahu maintained close ties with the far-right in Israel.  As a good friend of Jewish terrorist Meir Kahane, he officiated at Kahane’s son’s wedding and delivered the eulogy at Meir Kahane’s funeral.

More recently, Eliyahu took to the podium to explain to the world that the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was (pre-emptive) divine punishment for the support of Asian governments for Ariel Sharon’s planned decolonization of Gaza.  In May 2007, he wrote to then PM Olmert explaining to him “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza” because “all citizens are collectively guilty,” based on readings of Genesis 34 and Kings 9,14.  Contrary to the biblical world, this act is properly understood in its international legal context as a war crime and possible crime against humanity.

Even if he didn’t feel this way about carpet bombing, his racism, spread to generations of religious fundamentalists in Israel, would have justified just about anything:”Even if we seek revenge,” he once argued,”it is important to make one thing clear—the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.”  While uniquely potent toward Arabs, his prejudice extended to Jews as well when they didn’t follow his ultra-Orthodox prescriptions.  About Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism, for example, he once said that they “reek of hell”.

Perhaps most famously, Eliyahu was one of Israel’s most vocal opponents of relinquishing any land whatsoever to Arabs, and actively encouraged his followers to resist military orders to evacuate settlements.

(Side note: His son, Shmuel Eliyahu, also a famous and influential Rabbi, has called for children of Palestinian militants to be “hung from trees” and for the blanket carpet bombing of Gaza.  During the Gaza assault, he cited his father’s teachings and said: “If they don’t stop [firing rockets] after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand.  And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000.  If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million.  Whatever it takes to make them stop.”)

A thoroughly charming family.

Loved By All… Jewish Extremists

He passed away this week from persistent cardiac problems, providing an excellent opportunity for Israel’s leaders to curry favor with those extremist groups for whom Eliyahu is greatly revered.  Fellow extremist Rabbi Wolpe said: “One of the greatest leaders of Israel has been lost, one who fought courageously for the completeness of the Land of Israel, and the love of Israel surged within him.”  Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger cried as he summarized Eliyahu’s virtues:

“This is a huge loss to the Torah world and the rabbinate. . . .  I owe him a personal debt; I received so much from him. . . He was unrivaled as far as his human relations, loved by all, and Jews of all types—hassidim, Lithuanians, settlers, Ashkenazim and Sephardim—would convene in his house to hear Torah from him.. . . This is a difficult day for all of Israel, and so many rabbis who were privy to his advice and wisdom.”

A Shas spokesman (Shas currently has 11 seats in the Knesset) said that “Shas’s Council of Torah Sages, the Shas movement, its rabbis and public from all over the country mourn and feel pain over the death of the great genius. . . . who taught so many and promoted Torah.”  The extremist settler organization the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (i.e. the occupied West Bank) released a statement that said: “His guidance, courage and love for the people of Israel and the Land of Israel led generations in their struggle over establishing and fortifying the settlements. . . . We’ve lost our guide, who unified the camp and led us in the face of the challenges of the times.”  The Jewish fundamentalists of Hebron expressed gratitude for the way Eliyahu was “always available to help and show support in every way possible.”  The chairman of the National Union party (4 seats in Knesset) said Eliyahu was “one of the special souls that God sends down to the world in each generation.”

And on and on.

That Eliyahu’s co-extremists eulogize him in this way is not particularly newsworthy, although your friends say a lot about who you are.

A Prime Minister’s Eulogy

More shocking (to people who don’t know the extent to which far-right, extremist ultra-nationalists have taken hold of Israeli institutions, including the Knesset and military), is the way his death was received by the political elite of the country.  PM Netanyahu, for example, gushed at Eliyahu’s funeral, saying he “was a first-rate, paramount spiritual leader of religious Zionism, a loyal righteous member of our people who combined words of Torah, clear analysis and sage advice.”  Defense Minister Ehud Barak called him a public leader and spiritual shepherd, adding “he will be especially remembered as one who undertook many efforts and worked for rapprochement and the unity of Israel.  May his memory be blessed.”

This is outrageous sycophancy toward one of the most morally revolting religious leaders of our time.  He was an extremist monster, whose teachings have done incalculable harm to human rights and justice in the Middle East.  The fact that he is treated in this way while the Abe Foxmans of the world excoriate Helen Thomas for something far more benign and ambiguous than the wretched arithmetic of tribal value that Eliyahu advocated, that Israeli hasbarists are more concerned with the comments from some IHH members before the flotilla massacre, is testament to the mind-boggling hypocrisy of the Israeli mind.

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