JERUSALEM, DEC. 2 -- A 32-month legal battle that pitted Israel's judiciary against its rabbinical authorities ended today with the extradition to Paris of a French Jew convicted of murdering an Arab.
William Nakash, 25, fled to Tel Aviv four years ago after the killing, proclaimed himself an Orthodox Jew, obtained Israeli citizenship and sought protection from Israel's chief rabbis and its religious political parties, claiming he would be murdered by Arab inmates if sent to prison in France.
He was proclaimed a champion of the Jewish people by Israeli rightists and denounced as a street thug and murderer by legal academics and leftist members of parliament who pushed for his extradition.
He was made a cause celebre by the Orthodox rabbinate and by supporters who argued that Israel should not hand over a Jew to be judged and punished by non-Jews. Under their pressure, Justice Minister Avraham Sharir, a member of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's Likud political bloc, decided last December to ignore Israel's extradition agreement with France and refuse to return Nakash.
Outraged academics, civil rights advocates and legislators appealed Sharir's decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Cabinet minister was flouting the rule of law. In March, the court ordered Nakash's extradition.
But Jerusalem's Rabbinical Court then stepped in, ordering that the extradition be suspended until Nakash granted his Israeli wife a divorce.
Attorney General Yosef Harish, who called Nakash "worthless trash," said the Rabbinical Court had no authority to prevent his deportation and went back to the Supreme Court for reaffirmation of the extradition order. But before it ruled, Nakash agreed to the divorce.
He was brought to the airport early today under heavy guard and handed over to two French policemen for the flight to Paris.
The outcome was seen as a victory for neither side. The anti-Nakash forces won his extradition, but only after nearly three years of legal wrangling that showed anew the political clout of Israel's rabbinate and its small religious parties.
Rightists who supported Nakash failed to thwart his extradition. Meir Kahane, who leads an ultranationalist, anti-Arab political party in parliament, came to the airport today to protest Nakash's departure but was not allowed to talk to him. A handful of Kahane supporters demonstrated briefly outside the terminal but dispersed without incident.
"It would have been a very dangerous precedent and a real blow to the rule of law if Nakash had been allowed to stay," said Ruth Gavison, law professor at Hebrew University. "It would have meant that Jews could murder non-Jews."
Nakash was convicted in the February 1983 murder of Abdelali Hakkar, a young Algerian Moslem whose street gang reportedly harassed customers of a bar run by Nakash's older brother in Besancon, France. Nakash and two companions cornered Hakkar in an alley and shot him eight times.
Nakash, whose parents were Algerian Jews, has not denied his role in the murder but claimed he was defending local Jews from anti-Semitic Arabs. French police, however, have characterized the killing as murder among petty gangsters.
Nakash fled to Israel using false papers and immediately obtained Israeli citizenship, a right of every Jew, but did so under a false name.
He argued that he would be killed in prison by members of Hakkar's extended family or gang if extradited. But the Supreme Court said that fear was based only on "speculation" and "unfounded assumptions" by Nakash's lawyers and Sharir.
Nakash was tried and convicted in absentia by a French court but will receive a new trial upon his return.