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Knesset defense panel head calls for designating far-right Lehava a terror group

Ram Ben-Barak, a former Mossad deputy chief, urges defense minister to outlaw extremist organization that works to stifle intermarriage, non-Jewish public activity and LGBT rights

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)
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 head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday urged Defense Minister Benny Gantz to designate the extremist Jewish Lehava group as a terror organization.

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak, a former Mossad intelligence agency deputy chief, appealed to Gantz to “exercise your authority as defense minister” and kickstart a “swift and determined effort that will culminate with the designation of Lehava as a terror organization and outlaw the organization and its activists.”

In his appeal, he invoked Lehava’s support for extremist late rabbi Meir Kahane, the incitement to racism conviction of its current leader, and the recent banning of some of its members from major social media platforms over alleged incitement to violence.

Channel 13 reported that new Public Security Minister Omer Barlev was also involved in the effort to outlaw the group and had approached Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to help lay the legal groundwork.

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have attempted to designate Lehava a terrorist group, but those attempts , including in 2015 by then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, made little headway. Ben-Barak argued that past efforts were held up by gaps in Israel’s terror laws on how to ban such groups. The counterterrorism laws were overhauled in 2016, now enabling the designation, he said.

“In a normal country, there is no immunity for those engaged in terrorism,” said Ben-Barak in a statement.

Gantz did not immediately respond to the call.

Then, newly a member of the Yesh Atid party, Ram Ben-Barak attends a faction meeting at the Israeli parliament on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Lehava opposes intermarriage 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.

Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein has been arrested on a number of occasions and investigated for statements that 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.

More recently, Gopstein attempted to launch a political career in the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, but was barred by the Supreme Court from running in 2019, over remarks that “unequivocally” proved that he “systematically incites racism against the Arab public.”

Police stand in front of demonstrators from the Lehava Jewish extremist group at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on April 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lehava was involved in recent violence between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. In the early days of the intercommunal rioting earlier this year, Lehava organized an ultranationalist march to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, which was a hotspot of violent clashes between East Jerusalem Palestinians and police.

The legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in May called upon Israeli officials to designate the Lehava Jewish extremist group as a terrorist organization.

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