Banned rabbi says he wont visit Israel

NEW YORK — An American rabbi who was banned from Israel more than two years ago says that even though the ban has been lifted, he has no desire to visit the Jewish state.

"I would not go now, not for any reason," said Rabbi Abraham Hecht, who was banned from the country in December 1995, a month after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

Hecht's resolve to stay out of Israel is "not because I'm afraid, but because the right would go crazy and the left would, too," he said.

Israeli officials said the ban was imposed because Hecht's remarks were interpreted by many as having given rabbinic approval to murder for the sake of stopping the transfer of land from Israeli control to Arab.

In addition, the rabbinic organization Hecht heads is asking Israel's government to apologize for banning him in the first place.

The Rabbinical Alliance of America, which claims 650 members, has formally requested that the state of Israel issue an official apology "for the calumnious insult heaped upon him by the previous Labor government."

The statement, signed by the Rabbinical Alliance's executive vice president, chairman and administrator of its religious court, rails against "the leftist, anti-religion government headed by Shimon Peres, [which] declared that Hecht was to be banned from entering Israel.

"The ban, loudly touted and publicized by the government-controlled media, sought to defame and denigrate the name and character of a prominent world Jewish leader who fearlessly opposed the Oslo Agreement," it said, referring to the peace accords signed by Rabin and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Hecht's son, Rabbi Yehoshua Hecht, said, "I know of no apology being in the works right now, but we're hopeful it will be forthcoming, because he's a good man who is a lover of the Jewish people."

A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington said it is hard to imagine his government apologizing to Hecht.

"If someone has to apologize, it is Rabbi Hecht, for the words that he said," according to Gadi Baltiansky, the embassy's press counselor.

"Hecht represents the incitement, and we, of Israeli society, paid a very high price when our prime minister was assassinated."

It was in June 1995 that Hecht said, at a discussion between rabbis that was open to the media, that by handing over Israeli land and property to Palestinians as part of the peace process, that Israeli leaders fell into the talmudic category of "moser," or people who betray Jews to gentiles.

JTA and other news reports at the time then quoted Hecht as saying that according to Maimonides, such people deserve not only the death penalty, but should be killed before they can betray the Jewish people.

In an interview from his winter home in Miami, Hecht denied ever having made those remarks.

He apologized in an October 1995 letter to Rabin, but was still isolated and then forced into retirement by his congregation, Shaare Zion, an Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn., N.Y.