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Jewish extremist hit with terror charges after years of anti-Arab rhetoric

Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein says indictment amounts to state-sanctioned persecution, vows to continue controversial campaign against Jewish-Arab coexistence

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein is brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, October 22, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein is brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, October 22, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of a Jewish extremist group was charged with incitement to violence and racism and support for terrorism, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

The charges leveled against Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein relate to numerous inflammatory public statements he made about Arabs between 2012 and 2017.

Gopstein’s far-right group Lehava opposes miscegenation 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 in order to “save the daughters of Israel.”

The indictment handed down in the Jerusalem District Court cited a 2012 incident in which Gopstein grabbed a microphone at his daughter’s wedding in the Modiin Illit settlement and began singing a song glorifying Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish terrorist who killed 29 Palestinian worshipers at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994.

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.

Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein and right-wing activists protest against the gay parade during the annual Gay Pride parade at a main street in Jerusalem on July 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The charge sheet also noted his 2014 speech at a memorial ceremony for slain extremist rabbi Meir Kahane in which he railed against Palestinians, calling them a “cancer.”

“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.”

After the indictment was filed Tuesday, Gopstein said the charges amounted to state-sanctioned persecution and claimed it was an effort to silence his right-wing political views.

“The [attorney general ]has decided that preventing assimilation is the same as racism,” he said Tuesday. “It’s a black day when the justice department goes against the teachings of Israel.”

“But this isn’t going to help them, I will continue to work for the girls of Israel and for the Jewish state,” Gopstein added.

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.

Lehava protesters hold signs reading ‘Assimilation is a Holocaust’ outside a Jewish-Muslim wedding near Tel Aviv, August 17, 2014 (Flash90)

More recently, Gopstein launched a political career, serving in a top post in the extreme-right party Otzma Yehudit, but was barred from running in the 2019 elections.

Otzma Yehudit supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.

The party’s former No. 1, Michael Ben Ari, was barred from running in the April elections by the Supreme Court under anti-racism laws. In August, the court also barred Gopstein and Baruch Marzel from running on the party list citing the anti-racism clause.

During that hearing, the panel of nine justices noted that Gopstein’s anti-Arab rhetoric “revealed a new low point in the racial discourse that we have not known before.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut explained in the court’s decision that Gopstein’s remarks “unequivocally” proved that he “systematically incites racism against the Arab public.”

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