Police arrested the leader of an extremist Jewish group early Sunday on suspicion of making threats against Arabs who were romantically involved with Jewish women.
Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein and 14 other members of the anti-assimilation group were arrested in their homes throughout Israel and the West Bank, police said.
They were all taken in for questioning and police, and 10 of them were released later in the day. Gopstein was set to appear in court later in the day for a remand hearing.
Police said the arrests came after an “undercover and complex” investigation of the group, which was prompted by a number of recent instances of assault and harassment of Arabs in Jerusalem and efforts by the group “to expand its activities.”
An Israel Police spokeswoman said Sunday’s arrests were meant to “cut off the phenomenon” of assaults on Arabs and “prevent radicalization by members of the group and harming others on the basis of racist nationalism.”
“The Israel Police will act wherever criminals are taking the law into their own hands,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
Gopstein’s lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir said his client’s arrest was due to “leftist extremists” and “Reform Jews” exerting pressure on police.
“It is inconceivable that as part of the leftist extremists’ pressure the police are acting on their commands, falling into line and arresting Lehava operatives in an ostentatious arrest without bothering to summon them for questioning,” said Ben Gvir.
He also said his client’s arrest came two weeks ahead of when police were set to respond to a petition calling for Gopstein to be be tried for incitement to racism and violence and Lehava to be branded a criminal organization.
Gopstein has previously been arrested on a number of occasions and investigated for statements he made against non-Jews, including for an article in which he called Christians living in Israel “bloodsuckers.”
He was also arrested shortly after members of his group tried to burn down an Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem in November 2014. Gopstein was not charged over the attack, for which three Lehava members were eventually convicted.
His organization opposes intermarriage and the assimilation of Jews and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel.
Lehava, which some lawmakers have tried to designate a terrorist group, has frequently called for action to be taken against non-Jews and homosexuals in order to “save the daughters of Israel,” in Gopstein’s words.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.