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AFP | Dec. 7, 2010
Jerusalem - Fifty Israeli rabbis have signed an open letter warning Jews not to let or sell property to non-Jews, saying those who do should be "ostracised", a copy of the letter showed on Tuesday.
"In answer to the many questions, we say that it is forbidden in the Torah to sell a house or a field in the land of Israel to a foreigner," says the letter, referring to the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
The text, which was signed mostly by state-employed rabbis, warns "he who sells or rents them a flat in an area where Jews live causes great harm to his neighbours".
"After someone sells or rents just one flat, the value of all the neighbouring flats drops... He who sells or rents (to non-Jews) causes his neighbours a big loss and his sin is great," the letter said, in what was largely understood to refer to Israel's Arab minority.
"Anyone who sells (property to a non-Jew) must be cut off!!"
According to the Israeli news website Ynet, the letter was to be published in religious newspapers and distributed in synagogues across the country later this week.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel slammed the letter as "racist" and called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn "the incitement expressed by the rabbis".
Call for Netanyahu to intervene
"Rabbis who are civil servants have an obligation to the entire public, including Israel's Arab citizens. It is unthinkable that they would use their public status to promote racism and incitement," the group said in a statement.
The organisation called on Netanyahu to take disciplinary action against state-employed rabbis who signed the document.
The letter appeared as tensions grow between religious Jewish and Arab-Israeli residents of the northern town of Safed, where local rabbi Shmuel Eliahu has called on Jews to avoid letting or selling property to Arabs.
There is a college in Safed that attracts Arab-Israeli students from the surrounding area, many of whom seek accommodation in the town while studying.
In October, a group of Jewish youths attacked several Arab-Israeli students at the college, shouting "death to Arabs" in an incident police had to break up.
Some 1.3 million Arab Israelis live in Israel, which represents about 20% of the population. They are made up of Palestinians who remained on their land after Israel's establishment in 1948, and their descendants.