Israel's esteemed Holocaust memorial centre, has denounced the growing number of rabbis forbidding the rental or sale of property to non-Jews, saying it was an “egregious blow to the values of our lives as Jews and human beings in a democratic state”.

The prohibition, widely seen as being aimed against Israel's Arab population, was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and brought calls for the publicly funded rabbis involved to be sacked.

In a rare intervention, Yad Vashem said in a statement: “Past experiments have taught us just how important, and at the same time how fragile, these basic values are ... We know that the Jewish people, that knew suffering and persecution and which has experienced ostracism and the revocation of basic rights, has expressed its stance on matters such as these with voices different to those we have heard today.” According to the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, about 300 rabbis have now signed a letter backing the ruling, originally issued by Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, a town dominated by ultra-orthodox Jews. Many of the signatories are publicly funded municipal rabbis or principals of religious educational institutions.

The paper quoted a number of rabbis. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon said: “The Arabs don't truly want a Jewish neighbour. What they truly want is to conquer places and to seize control of the country. What, do we want to be like Europe, where the Arabs frighten everyone off and bring down the prices?”

However, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, the head of a religious educational institution, said he was “ashamed as a faithful Jew” and the ruling was “an act of public desecration of the holy name”. A group of intellectuals and academics have joined appeals by politicians and other public figures for Israel's Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to suspend rabbis who have endorsed the ruling and who are also public servants. Mr. Netanyahu said this week that Israel “totally rejects” the ruling. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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