Jewish far-right extremist Benzi Gopstein said advising Ben Gvir on police issues

Sources close to national security minister deny report but concede leader of racist and anti-LGBTQ Lehava group, who has been banned from running for Knesset, is ‘close friend’

Benzi Gopstein, chairman of the extreme-right group Lehava, during a visit of MK Itamar Ben Gvir to the Arab town of Kafr Qasim, October 5, 2021. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Benzi Gopstein, chairman of the extreme-right group Lehava, during a visit of MK Itamar Ben Gvir to the Arab town of Kafr Qasim, October 5, 2021. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Jewish extremist Bentzi Gopstein, who has been banned by the Supreme Court from running for the Knesset due to his racist views, has been advising National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on police issues, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.

The report, citing several sources, said that Gopstein has been advising Ben Gvir on his dealings with the police commissioner and the top commanders, and had even attended several meetings in the National Security Ministry.

“Gopstein is advising and he is involved in many decisions connected to the upper echelons of the police and operations,” a senior security source told Haaretz, adding that Gopstein was very close to Ben Gvir.

Gopstein allegedly advised Ben Gvir on issuing a reprimand to the head of the Border Police in February after he backed his officers for evacuating an illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank.

He was also reportedly behind Ben Gvir’s announcement that the police were going to launch a large-scale operation in East Jerusalem the same month, the report said. That plan was quickly shot down by officials.

The sources said Gopstein was also involved in decisions on personnel appointments among senior officers.

“It is insane that a man like this is advising the national security minister,” the source said.

Sources in Ben Gvir’s office, speaking to the right-wing Israel National News site, denied the report.

Otzma Yehudit member and Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein (c) and Otzma Yehudit candidate Itamar Ben Gvir (left) protest near the annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem on July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Bentzi Gopstein is a close friend of the minister. Ben Gvir appreciates him for his dozens of years of sacrifice and selfless activities for the people of Israel,” the official said.

“However, Gopstein is not involved in appointments related to security. These things are done by the officials in a professional manner,” the source said. “Haaretz would prefer that Ben Gvir be friends with [late Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat.”

Gopstein was one of the leaders of Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party before he and several other party members were barred from running for the Knesset by the Supreme Court in 2019. The Haaretz report said that Gopstein was still very active and influential in the party — last month he was seen attending an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset.

Gopstein is head of the racist and anti-LGBTQ Lehava organization, which opposes interfaith and interethnic relationships and marriages. Lehava has held violent protests outside mixed Jewish-Muslim weddings and along the routes of pride parades, and has called on the public to alert it to cases where Jewish women are discovered to be dating Arab men.

Explaining the 2019 decision to bar Gopstein from running, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut cited the “dozens” of remarks made by the Lehava chairman that presented an “unequivocal” sense that he “systematically incites racism against the Arab public.”

Extremist, far-right rabbi Bentzi Gopstein shouts “it’s not pride it’s an abomination” at the protest against the Jerusalem Pride Parade, June 1, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

“Gopstein presents the entire Arab public as an enemy with which no contact should be made that could be interpreted as coexistence,” Hayut continued.

The court said his remarks “revealed a new low in racial discourse.”

Gopstein is also on trial for incitement to violence, racism, and terrorism and was being represented by Ben Gvir before he became a lawmaker. The trial is in its final stages.

Ahead of the trial, Ben Gvir said Gopstein was “the Israeli Dreyfus,” referring to a French-Jewish officer who was accused of spying and sent into exile following an antisemitic show trial in the late 19th century.

“This is persecution, this is the silencing of voices,” Ben Gvir continued. “This trial is a trial of freedom of speech.”

Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein, right, and his attorney (now MK), Itamar Ben Gvir, left, arrive at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, June 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

The indictment cited Gopstein’s praise for Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. (Ben Gvir had a picture of Goldstein hanging in his living room for a number of years.)

Also cited by prosecutors was a 2012 TV interview in which Gopstein boasted that he refused to hire or work with Arab employees. When asked what would happen if he had an Arab server at a wedding, Gopstein responded that the caterer would “have to look for the nearest hospital.”

In a separate interview on Channel 2 (now Channel 12), Gopstein asserted that “there’s no shortage of Arabs who deserved to be beaten up,” particularly ones who flirt with Jewish women.

The charge sheet also noted a 2014 speech he gave at a memorial ceremony for slain extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, in which he railed against “enemies within” the country.

“The enemies within us are a cancer, and if we don’t get rid of this cancer, we won’t be able to continue existing here as Jews,” he said. “The Temple Mount has the largest cancer growth of them all… as long as the Israeli government fails to remove that growth from the Temple Mount, Israel will never be fully redeemed.”

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, but three Lehava members were eventually convicted.

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