• Mitchell Israel

Standing Up to Bullies: A Look Back


This is my final blog post at IRAC, as I leave to return home next week. What will await me when I return? I will be home for one full day, before leaving for my summer job, working as the Songleader at URJ Jacobs Camp in Mississippi. Jacobs Camp plays an important role, as for many of its campers, it is their only access to Judaism. During the year, many campers at Jacobs do not have Jewish communities, and may face prejudice or bullying, as being a Jew in the Deep South is not easy. Ironically, in Israel, it can sometimes be leaders of Jewish communities who are doing the bullying.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, can definitely be described as a bully. Not only is he prejudiced against Arab citizens of Israel, he has also attacked the country’s democratic institutions, more specifically the Supreme Court. Following a decision in 2015 to remove an illegally built synagogue, Rabbi Eliyahu made a statement telling people to “embitter the lives” of the Supreme Court Justices. In response to this and other incitement against Arabs, women, LGBT people, and Israel’s democratic institutions, IRAC has sent a letter to the court, demanding that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked do something. Shaked has chosen to be a bystander, letting Rabbi Eliyahu continue his incitement with little to no punishment.

It is important to stand up to bullying of all kinds. Be it the children I will work with this summer in the Deep South, who may have been bullied for being Jewish, or the unfair treatment of Israel in international organizations like the UN. Most importantly, it is necessary to stand up to the bullies within our own Jewish community, those who incite against those who practice Judaism differently than they do, or non-Jewish Israelis who have the same rights as those who are Jewish.

In my past few months at IRAC, I have watched our organization stand up to bullies many times. We have stood up to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on Kashrut, the discriminatory Avodah Ivrit website, and to the Israeli government wishing to deport asylum seekers. I have also witnessed our support for Rights on Flights, the possibility of a woman as Knesset Rabbi, and of Jafar Farah, an ally treated unfairly by police. As I leave this semester behind, I am so glad to have had the opportunity to intern for an organization on the front lines of the fight for equality in Israel.



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