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A Big Victory Against Racism in Israel

A Big Victory Against Racism in Israel

The holiday of Hanukkah begins this Wednesday night. In Israel, interactive billboards in Jerusalem light up hanukkiyot, adding another candle every night of the holiday. The marketplace smells of sufganiyot, doughnuts filled with jelly, and children gather to spin dreidels and eat chocolate gelt. Also, this week the Israel Religious Action Center, against all odds, won a case in the Supreme Court fighting the incitement of racism in Israel.

IRAC has been monitoring racist incitement in Israel for over a decade. When we saw the racist contents of the book The King’s Torah, we knew we had to take action. The book cites Jewish texts to allow the killing of gentiles (non-Jewish (people) - men, women, and children - whenever their presence endangers Jewish life, “even if the person is a Righteous Gentile and bears no guilt for the situation that has emerged” (page 164). It was endorsed by four well-known rabbis, including Dov Lior, who is employed by the state of Israel. We asked the Attorney General to stop the publication, but as we have seen in the past regarding decisions against racist incitement by rabbis, the process took a long time and did not conclude in our favor.

Discontent with the outcome, we took our fight to the Supreme Court. On the eve of the decision, after more than three years of arguing this case, we were worried that conservative Chief Justice Asher Grunis would throw our case out of court - and yet, the dreidel spun in our favor. The state now has two months to either provide better reasoning for why they are not prosecuting the authors, or to take disciplinary action against the state-employed rabbis who were involved with this book. 

Rabbis who would use Jewish text to justify hate should be challenged at every turn. In order to truly realize the message of Hanukkah and to be an or l’goyim, light unto other nations, we must continue to fight institutionalized racism in the name of all minorities that have no place else to turn. This Hanukkah, join me in celebrating the little bit of light that can shine through a lot of darkness.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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