Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein issued a thinly veiled call on Tuesday for authorities to outlaw the far-right Lehava organization, shortly after Bentzi Gopstein, the group’s leader, appeared before a stormy meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee.
“I join calls for legal bodies to take the initiative and call this organization what it deserves to be called,” Edelstein said.
Ten MKs were ejected from the committee meeting earlier in the day, during a discussion on Lehava called for by MKs Michal Rozin of Meretz and Yoel Hasson of Zionist Union, although the two were unaware of Gopstein’s invitation. Soon after the beginning of the meeting, left-wing and Arab committee members began calling out at the group’s leader.
“You are Islamic State with a kippah,” said Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli. “You don’t represent any kind of Judaism or any kind of morality. You are a disgrace to the state and the society.”
Joint (Arab) List MK Abdullah Abu Maaruf called Gopstein a “Nazi,” while Meretz MK Ilan Gilon called the Lehava leader “effluence of garbage, the foreskin of the Jewish Ku Klux Klan.”
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the committee, called for the disruptive MKs to be ejected from the meeting. Among those thrown out were lawmakers from Meretz, the Zionist Union and the United (Arab) List. Other MKs walked out of their own accord.
Representatives of the Israel Police who participated in the committee meeting also refused to talk about the Lehava organization in front of Gopstein.
On the podium, Gopstein said the lawmakers “are afraid of me, because you know that one day I’ll be in the Knesset and you won’t.” He also called the left-wing MKs “traitors” and the Arab lawmakers “terrorists.”
Edelstein’s comments came later in the day in a Knesset assembly meeting. He said that due to a large number of requests made to prohibit Gopstein’s entrance into the Knesset, Edelstein had explored the option of barring him. “I turned to the legal bureau and also to the Sergeant-at-Arms (head of Knesset security), and because there was no legal reason found to prohibit his entrance into the Knesset, I could not prohibit the entrance of an Israeli citizen who is invited to a committee discussion.”
The speaker said that when law enforcement bodies take action, then “it will solve this problem once and for all.”
Edelstein’s comments came one month after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that the Israeli government was considering outlawing the group. Erdan’s statement came in the wake of a revenge attack in Dimona in which a Jewish man stabbed four Arabs.
Lehava was established as an organization aiming to prevent marriage between Jews and Arabs, which is prohibited according to religious Jewish law. The group has become identified with the extreme Jewish right and its members have been seen patrolling downtown Jerusalem on some evenings looking, they claim, for mixed couples.
Their vigilante patrols have often generated into scuffles and there were several instances over the past year where members of the organization have beaten Arabs who came to town for a night out.
Most of the organization’s members are teens.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.