A Jewish extremist group has said it will rally in Jerusalem on Thursday in a show of “national honor,” amid rising ethnic tensions in the city. Police were preparing to counter any potential provocation or violence.
In a statement Wednesday, Lehava said its activists will march to the Old City’s Damascus Gate to protest recent violence toward Jews, citing a number of assaults that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail.
Along with the recent violence in Jerusalem toward Jews, there have also been attacks on Arabs, with chants of “death to Arabs” heard during the assaults.
Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein said in the statement: “Instead of dealing a fatal blow to terror and causing the Arabs to think a thousand times before they dare lift a hand against a Jew, the police are displaying unprecedented weakness, which only fuels the terror and causes it to grow.”
He also said Lehava members would march to the Damascus Gate with “Israeli flags and lots of Jewish pride, without fear.”
According to Channel 12, police were taking the planned protest seriously and would deploy in force in the area to prevent violence.
Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation of Jews and non-Jews, as well as LGBT rights, and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it as a terrorist group.
According to a report on the Mynet Jerusalem news site, young Jewish extremists are planning on showing up Thursday outside the Old City armed with weapons and are organizing their actions on a WhatsApp group chat.
Members of the group were instructed to attack as many Arabs as possible, the report said, with one saying he planned to bring brass knuckles, pepper spray and an airgun.
“Who wants to come?” he reportedly wrote.
Along with the ethnic tensions, Jerusalem has seen regular clashes over the past week between Palestinian residents and police who have been blocking Palestinians from sitting on the steps of Damascus Gate. In an unofficial Jerusalem tradition, thousands of Palestinians sit in the area following nighttime prayers during Ramadan.
Police have deployed water cannons and stun grenades to disperse crowds while rioters have hurled stones and set off fireworks at cops.
The Islamic holy month has long been a flashpoint for violence between young Palestinians and Israeli security forces.