Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the “time has come” to consider designating the far-right groups La Familia and Lehava as terrorist organizations, after they were at the forefront of the violence and inflammatory rhetoric at Sunday’s nationalist Flag March through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
The violence and incitement on display at the march through the capital were widely discussed and condemned by the heads of several political parties, but ignored entirely by others, notably the right-wing Likud party and far-right Religious Zionism party.
After meeting with Jerusalem police officers, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, of the right-wing Yamina party, condemned the “group of extremists” behind the violence and said they would be brought to justice.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said the Jerusalem Day festivities had been hijacked by groups like La Familia and Lehava.
“Instead of a day of happiness, they tried to make it a day of hate,” the foreign minister said, adding that “these people aren’t patriots.”
He added: “Jerusalem deserves better.”
Both La Familia and Lehava have been tied to cases of violence against Arabs in Israel over the years. La Familia is nominally a fan club of Jerusalem’s Beitar soccer team, though the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Lehava is an anti-miscegenation and anti-homosexual organization that regularly employs violence mostly against Arab men. Its members have also been involved in arson attacks on churches and mixed Arab-Jewish schools, and one member was recently indicted for sexually assaulting an underage female member of the organization.
“As defense minister, I believe that the time has come to consider terrorist organization designations for groups like La Familia and Lehava. I know that the subject has been brought up with security organizations and I trust the heads of the organizations to make that consideration in the cleanest and best way possible,” Gantz said.
The head of Lehava, Bentzi Gopstein, lambasted Gantz’s remarks and said the organization would survive him.
“‘Defense’ Minister Gantz hosts the Holocaust denier and terror supporter Abu Mazen in his home,” Gopstein said in a statement, using the nom de guerre of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“And he doesn’t do anything to the Arabs who are inciting day after day on the Temple Mount, but he does fight the Lehava organization, which acts for the good of the people of Israel. We survived Pharoah, we’ll survive Gantz,” he said.
The defense minister delivered his remarks during his Blue and White party’s faction meeting in the Knesset, following yesterday’s Jerusalem Day celebrations, during which members of both groups were seen attacking Arab residents of the Old City and screaming racist chants like “Death to Arabs” and “Your village should burn,” among others.
“In response to those who shout ‘Your village should burn,’ we will strengthen another village and another village. We will provide adequate infrastructure and good education, and turn Arab cities and towns in Israel into places where it is good to live. This is a national requirement and it also comes from civic fairness,” Gantz said.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, a member of the left-wing Labor party, supported Gantz’s calls to outlaw Lehava and La Familia, saying that he too believed the two organization should be illegal.
“Even before I became a minister, I contacted the attorney general to have him consider the possibility of outlawing La Familia and Lehava… I have no doubt that they harm the security of the State of Israel, its internal security, our broad common denominator, and we must outlaw them,” Barlev said at the Labor party’s faction meeting.
In his comments, Gantz said the violence at the Flag March was perpetrated by a group that only made up a small portion of the roughly 70,000 participants. He added that some “extremist Muslim rioters and terrorists” were also violent Sunday on and around the Temple Mount.
Bennett similarly cast the violence by Jewish Israelis as coming from a small minority that was not reflective of the whole.
“Other than the group of extremists, whom we will bring to justice, everyone celebrated yesterday in a special, uplifting way,” the premier said.
Lapid was somewhat more downbeat, describing the two groups as having hijacked the Flag March and Jerusalem Day.
“We cannot accept that these are the images left at the end of Jerusalem Day. The Israeli majority must take back the Flag March, and Jerusalem, and the State of Israel. We are the majority. They are an extremist minority,” Lapid said.
Despite the violence, Bennett said the march through the Muslim Quarter — and not via a less contentious alternate route — “strengthened sovereignty and governance” in East Jerusalem.
“If we hadn’t done it through the normal route, we would effectively never be able to go back to it. It could have been a withdrawal of sovereignty,” he said. “We proved that the State of Israel acts based on what’s right and not based on threats.”
That was a reference to threats made by Hamas and other terror groups against the march through the Muslim Quarter. Similar threats were made last year before Hamas launched a number of rockets at Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip, sparking a nearly two-week war.
In his remarks, Lapid also stressed Israel’s dedication to the status quo on the Temple Mount, specifically saying Muslims can visit and pray on the esplanade while Jews may only visit.
“The status quo on the Temple Mount hasn’t changed and won’t change on our watch,” Lapid said, while acknowledging that “maybe there are people who violate it.”
During Sunday’s heated Jerusalem Day events, videos circulated of Jews praying and prostrating themselves on the Temple Mount. Israeli police removed several of them, though recent court cases have cast doubt on police’s ability to legally prevent prayer on the site.