A controversial Israeli rabbi has sparked outrage after claiming the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Monday was “divine justice”.
Shmuel Eliyahu, who serves as chief rabbi of Safed in northern Israel and is a member of the chief rabbinate council, claimed that God is punishing the disaster-hit countries for their alleged mistreatment of the Jewish people.
“God is judging around us all the nations who wanted to invade our land and throw us into the sea,” Eliyahu wrote in an op-ed published in the Olam Katan newspaper on Friday.
At least 28,000 people were killed in Monday’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, directly affecting up to 18 million people in southern Turkey and northern Syria.
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In his column, Eliyahu claimed that Syria “abused its Jewish residents for hundreds of years, invaded Israel three times, shot at the peasants who lived at the foot of the Golan Heights for years, abused prisoners, and hanged (the Israeli spy) Eli Cohen.”
He also targeted Lebanon, which was hit by the quake and is facing a crippling financial crisis, writing: “There is no doubt that the country that was once the ‘Switzerland of the Middle East’ has become hell on earth is, and things like that don’t happen by accident.”
Speaking of Turkey, which served as the epicenter of the quake, he wrote: “We don’t know what heaven has to do with Turkey, which has slandered us in every possible area, but when God reveals this, He will judge our enemies.” , we know that everything that happens is to cleanse the world and make it better.”
Eliyahu, the father of right-wing parliamentarian and Israeli culture minister Amihai Ben-Eliyahu, has repeatedly sparked controversy over his anti-Palestinian and Arab statements and has been charged with incitement to racism.
In 2008, he called on the government to exact “state-sanctioned revenge” on Arabs after an attack on a Jewish school in Jerusalem to restore what he called an Israeli deterrent.
And in 2019, he told teenagers suspected of the murder of a Palestinian woman in the West Bank not to fear jail, as that is where the road to political power begins, prompting multiple rights groups to take disciplinary action and file criminal charges to challenge him.
Since the devastating earthquake, dozens of countries from around the world have sent aid and rescue teams to Turkey, including Israel.
Relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated in 2011, when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after a UN report covered Israel’s 2010 raid on the aid ship Mavi Marmara to Gaza, which killed nine Turkish citizens.
The rift was healed in 2016 when full diplomatic relations were restored and both countries exchanged ambassadors.
Late last year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital Ankara, marking the first visit by an Israeli head of state to the country since 2008.
This article is available in French in the French edition of Middle East Eye.