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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Jerusalem protestors slam rabbis' 'racist' letter (Israel)

Around 150 people gathered outside Jerusalem's Great Synagogue on Wednesday to protest against a letter by rabbis forbidding Jews not to rent property to non-Jews, an AFP correspondent said.

The letter, which was signed by 50 rabbis and made public on Tuesday, provoked a wave of criticism, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said "this kind of speech should be banned in a Jewish and democratic state."

The letter instructs that "it is forbidden in the Torah to sell a house or a field in the land of Israel to a foreigner," referring to the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Bible.

The protestors waved banners saying: "Racism is blasphemy" while others, some of them observant Jews wearing skullcaps, carried placards with religious slogans, reading: "The Holy One, blessed be He, is against racism."

"Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!" they shouted as a small group of far-right protestors hurled insults and abuse at them.

Addressing the demonstrators, Israeli activist Sara Benninga said: "We have come to protest against racism, oppression and inequality. Wherever there is racism, we will be there!"

Signed mostly by state-employed rabbis, the letter warns that "he who sells or rents them (non-Jews) a flat in an area where Jews live causes great harm to his neighbours" suggesting that person be "cut off" from the Jewish community.

The letter, which is reportedly to be published in religious newspapers and distributed in synagogues across the country later this week, was largely understood to refer to Israel's Arab minority.

It also drew criticism from from Amnesty International, which said it was clearly aimed at Israel's Arabs.

Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens, those who remained in the country after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948 and their descendants.

Associated Press