Police raid offices of anti-assimilation group Lehava
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Police raid offices of anti-assimilation group Lehava

Cops impound computers and other equipment in aftermath of arson attack on Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem on December 18, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem on December 18, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police raided the offices of Lehava on Wednesday night, confiscating computers and other equipment in the wake of allegations that the extremist anti-assimilation group was involved in an arson attack against an Arab-Jewish school.

The offices are located on Jaffa Road in the heart of downtown Jerusalem.

A legal representative for Lehava protested the raid and said that the offices were also used by the Otzma Yehudit party, a far-right faction planning to campaign for seats in the Knesset during the upcoming elections, Israel Radio reported.

The raid came following the arrest of Lehava Chairman Benzi Gopshtain on Tuesday amid suspicions that he and others in the organization had incited to violence and acts of terror.

Gopshtain’s arrest and those of nine others in the group came several weeks after an arson and graffiti attack, allegedly carried out by three Lehava members, against a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem.

Police said in a statement that the arrests were preceded by a complex and extensive undercover investigation into the activities of Lehava, which works to prevent intermarriage and coexistence between Jews and members of other religions in Israel.

The group is known for holding rowdy protests and marches. In August, four people were arrested when the group held a large protest outside the Rishon Lezion wedding of an Arab man and a Jewish woman.

The arrest raids were carried out by police in Gopshtain’s hometown of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, as well as by units in Jerusalem, Netivot, and Petah Tikva.

In addition to the arrests, cops also carried out extensive searches of the suspects’ homes.

On Monday, three Lehava members were formally charged in the arson and vandalism attack last month on Jerusalem’s Max Rayne Hand in Hand School school, after having confessed to committing the crime during questioning.

Security officials said that the suspects, Yitzhak Gabai, 22, and brothers Shlomo and Nahman Twitto, aged 20 and 18 respectively, admitted to torching the Jewish-Arab school because of anti-assimilation ideology.

Three members of the anti-assimilation  Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014.  (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On November 29, two first-grade classrooms and a playground were set on fire during a nighttime attack on the school. The suspects spray-painted messages that read “There is no coexistence with cancer”; “Death to the Arabs”; and “Kahane was right,” a reference to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultranationalist movement.

The attack drew condemnation from politicians across the spectrum, and hundreds rallied in support of the school in the days following the attack.

According to a report from Channel 2, one of the suspects claimed on Monday that the Shin Bet security services had offered to cut him a deal of a cash payment and a reduced sentence if he testified that the Lehava group was also involved in the arson attack.

The suspect reportedly turned down the offer.

The Shin Bet denied the claim.

Although the three suspects were charged with arson, breaking and entering, and vandalism, they were not charged with crimes of a nationalistic or racist nature.

In Israel, nationalistic crimes can include terrorism charges.

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