Far-right activist Benzi Gopstein – a Ben Gvir ally – targeted by US in third round of settler sanctions

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

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)

Far-right activist Benzi Gopstein, a close ally to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, has been targeted in the third round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration, which are aimed at clamping down on settler violence in the West Bank.

Gopstein is the founder and head of the Lehava anti-miscegenation group, “an organization whose members have engaged in destabilizing violence affecting the West Bank,” the US State Department says in a statement. “Under Gopstein’s leadership, Lehava and its members have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas.”

Gopstein was convicted in January of incitement to racism over comments.

He attempted to launch a political career in 2019, receiving a top spot in Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party before being disqualified by the Supreme Court over his past incitement to racism. Even though he is not a lawmaker, he has regularly been seen accompanying Ben Gvir in Knesset meetings over the past several years.

The decision to target Gopstein is part of a calculated decision by the Biden administration to target those in the political orbit of some of the Israeli government’s most extremist members, while holding off for now on sanctions against ministers such as Ben Gvir or Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich themselves, a US official tells The Times of Israel.

Concurrently, the Treasury Department designated two entities — the Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich — for their roles in establishing fundraising campaigns on behalf of Yinon Levi and David Chai Chasdai, two US-designated extremists who engaged in violent activities targeting Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in the West Bank. The fundraising campaigns generated the equivalent of $170,000 for Levi and Chasdai, the Treasury Department says.

As a result of the sanctions, all US property and interests belonging to Gopstein, the Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich have been blocked. Additionally, any entities that are owned by those sanctioned are blocked. Americans or those residing in the US who conduct financial transactions with or donate to those designated will themselves be exposed to sanctions. US Visa bans are also imposed against the extremist settlers who have been sanctioned.

“We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days and call on Israel to take all appropriate measures to prevent attacks by violent extremist settlers and hold those responsible accountable. The United States will not hesitate to take additional steps to promote accountability if necessary,” the State Department adds.

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