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Meet the powerful rabbi who once called for killing Palestinians

Rabbi Dov Lior is the spiritual leader of a coalition now set to be part of Netanyahu's government
Rabbi Dov Lior, spiritual leader of the Jewish Power party, takes part in celebrations following the first exit polls of the 2022 general elections, Jerusalem, 2 November 2022 (Reuters)
By Shir Hever in Jerusalem

As far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir is set to become Israel’s next minister of national security, his spiritual guide and ally Rabbi Dov Lior has come under the spotlight for his potential "racist" influence on the new government.

Lior, a proponent of the ethnic cleansing of Arab Muslims, is the spiritual leader for the entire far-right Religious Zionism coalition, which includes three parties: Religious Zionism, Jewish Power and Noam.

The political alliance won 14 seats in the Israeli parliament earlier this month, more than any religious-nationalist party in the history of the state, making it the second largest bloc in the governing coalition after Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu. Currently, the parties are locked in government-forming negotations with Netanyahu's Likud, reportedly winning control over several key state institutions.

Lior had urged Israelis to cast their votes for the coalition and spoke at its press conference after the election results were published. 

Lior is outspoken on political matters, and repeatedly promoted the theory that the “Western Land of Israel” (meaning all of historical Palestine) belongs to the Jews only.

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He claims that the “Eastern Land of Israel,” today the Kingdom of Jordan, which in his view also belongs to Jews, is less holy and may be compromised. Withdrawal from any part of the "Western Land of Israel", according to Lior, is a sin.

Lior supports the construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian territory and does not recognise the right of Palestinians to own land.

After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Lior’s name was listed among the rabbis who had allegedly issued a ruling condemning Rabin as a traitor worthy of death.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Jewish Power party, threatened to hurt Rabin in a television interview but was not charged because he was a minor at the time. Subsequently Lior and Ben-Gvir formed a lasting friendship.

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Lior was the rabbi of the Kiryat Arba illegal settlement within the occupied city of Hebron between 1987 and 2015. One of his disciples, Baruch Goldstein, shot and murdered 29 Palestinians in the Abrahamic Mosque in Hebron in 1994. Rabbi Lior referred to Goldstein afterwards as “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.”

In 2011, he expressed written support for the book “The King’s Torah,” a racist and genocidal book by the rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, which, among other things, endorses the killing of non-Jewish babies before they grow to adulthood and pose an alleged risk to Jews.

The Israeli police opened an investigation against Rabbi Lior over potential incitement, and issued an arrest warrant against him when he refused to give testimony. Far-right settlers launched widespread protests against the arrest warrant, and eventually Lior agreed to give a two-hour interview to the police and was released without charges.

In July 2014, in the midst of the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, Lior issued a “psak halacha” (a religious ruling), permitting the destruction of the entire Gaza Strip, and relieving Israeli soldiers from the obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. 

"It's okay to kill innocent civilians and destroy Gaza," he said.

'It's okay to kill innocent civilians and destroy Gaza'

- Rabbi Dov Lior

The ruling evoked outrage among the Israeli left and calls to open another investigation against him, but none was opened. Lior doubled down and spoke at a conference in September that year, in which he said: “The left wants to give Arabs a democratic regime. They know how to lead a democratic regime in the same way that I know how to lead camels. In Saudi Arabia a shopkeeper can leave the store open because anyone who tries to steal will have his hand cut off. This is the only language which they know.”

He proceeded to say that the Land of Israel must be “clean of Arabs”. The police never opened an investigation into the statement.

In 2015, Lior praised the Islamic State attacks in Paris in which 137 people were killed, saying: “The wicked ones in blood-soaked Europe deserve it for what they did to our people 70 years ago.”

Rabbi Lior called on US Jews to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Trump appointed David Friedman, a friend of Lior, to be the US ambassador to Israel. Friedman donated money to the Israeli Jewish organisation Komemiyut for which Lior was the chief rabbi. 

Lior venerates the late rabbi Meir Kahane, and spoke at his memorial. Kahane was the founder of the far-right Kach movement which was designated as a terror organisation in several countries, including in the State of Israel itself, but in the memorial Lior spoke next to Knesset Member Ben-Gvir, who was a member of Kach himself.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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