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In Israel, a rabbi who argues that anti-Arab measures are un-Jewish

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Indeed, the religious edicts banning rentals to non-Jews seem to be based as much on xenophobia as religious beliefs.

Seven rabbis in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak published a ruling last month calling on landlords to refrain from letting to “illegal residents and their ilk.” The rabbis wrote that an influx of African asylum seekers had reached “horrific proportions,” accusing the refugees of being idle and harassing others.

Then there were the statements of rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, a northern town, who spearheaded an edict to ban Arabs from living there. According to the rabbi, this was self-defense – otherwise Arabs would gradually take over Safed, considered a holy Jewish city.

“I have great compassion for human beings, even for animals. I have no compassion for enemies,” he told Maariv newspaper last month. “The moment a person comes and tells me in my house that I am a guest and not the owner, the moment a person distorts history, the moment a person acts in my city as if its his village, I have no obligation to be merciful towards him.”

Rabbi Eliyahu’s approach was adopted on a national scale last week, when some 50 rabbis from across the country issued an edict banning the rental of apartments to Arabs.

“The land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel,” Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the coastal town of Ashdod, explained to Army Radio.

All of this is anathema to Ascherman and his group, which draws on the humanistic teachings of the late American rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched along with Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement and opposed the Vietnam war.

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