Israeli police briefly detained a leading rabbi on Sunday as part of a widening probe into a hate-mongering treatise that many fear condones the murder of Arabs. The investigation has pitted authorities in the Jewish state against far-right West Bank settlers and has led to scuffles outside government institutions in Jerusalem and a sit-down protest that choked off the main highway to Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Yaacov Yosef was seized by detectives on his way back from morning prayers, witnesses said, in a tactic similar to the arrest last week of a senior West Bank rabbi whose followers responded with street protests. “They commandeered the car and took it away, together with my dad, to an undisclosed destination,” Rabbi Yosef’s son Yonatan told Israel Radio. The rabbi was freed after an hour, police said. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Rabbi Yosef had been “questioned on suspicion of inciting violence and racism” over his support for the treatise. “He was released after approximately an hour. After he was held, his supporters burnt tires near the main road between east and west Jerusalem and police also made arrests of three people who were blocking the light railway system,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. The clerics had ignored a police summons to be questioned over endorsements for “The King’s Doctrine,” a book written by a more obscure settler rabbi offering justifications from scripture for killing innocent gentiles during religious war. “Revenge, including strikes on the blameless and on babies, is necessary and important in fighting and defeating evil,” read a passage of the book, which was broadcast on an Israeli news program. Israeli security officials fear such edicts could fuel attacks designed to disrupt the eviction of settlers from occupied land they regard as theirs by biblical birthright but where Palestinians, with international support, seek statehood. A police spokesman said Rabbi Yosef had been interrogated in connection with “incitement to racism and violence” before being let go. Dov Lior, chief rabbi for the hardcore settlement of Kiryat Arba, was similarly questioned and released last week. “It must be made unequivocally clear that we are a state of law and that no one is above the law,” Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israel’s Army Radio. The King’s Doctrine, he said, is “a book that in an ugly, racist manner appears to permit, in certain ways and under certain circumstances, the killing of a person because he is not Jewish ... This is outrageous and demands a response.” In statements carried by Israeli media, the rabbis and their representatives have not openly called for sectarian bloodshed. But they have been dismissive of Israel’s authority to rein them in −which, coupled with the pace of police actions, has prompted some political commentators to warn of a dangerous drift between state and synagogue.