Man who torched Arab-Jewish school sentenced to 3 years
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Man who torched Arab-Jewish school sentenced to 3 years

Yitzhak Gabai, who turned down plea deal taken by 2 others convicted in the Jerusalem attack, also gets jail time for social media incitement

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yitzhak Gabai, a member of the right-wing Lehava organization, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yitzhak Gabai, a member of the right-wing Lehava organization, at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of three men convicted in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem a year ago was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after rejecting a plea deal signed by two other perpetrators.

In September, the Jerusalem District Court found Yitzhak Gabai, 22, guilty on separate counts of arson, carrying an illegal weapon, and incitement to violence on social media.

Judge Zvi Segal noted Tuesday that the sentence set a legal precedent in that 10 months of the three years’ imprisonment for Gabai were handed down for the social media incitement conviction — a first. Twenty-four months of his sentence were tied to the arson attack itself, and an additional two months to the knife possession conviction.

Two other men convicted in the arson attack, brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twitto, were sentenced in July to prison terms of two and two-and-a-half years, respectively, in a plea bargain. They were also required to pay the school a total of NIS 25,000 ($6,450) in compensation.

Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Three members of the anti-assimilation Lehava organization, suspects in an arson attack on a Jewish-Arab school, are brought to a hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on December 15, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The three set fire on November 29 to the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem and spray-painting on the school’s walls racist messages such as “There is no coexistence with cancer”; “Death to the Arabs”; and “Kahane was right,” a reference to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mentor of the Jewish ultra-nationalist movement.

The act drew condemnation from politicians across the board, and hundreds rallied in support of the school in the days following the attack.

The trio, who ranged in age from 18 to 22, were activists in the extremist Lehava organization, which seeks to limit contact between Jews and non-Jews in Israel.

Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem on December 18, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem on December 18, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Headed by extremist right-wing activist Bentzi Gopstein, Lehava has been denounced by President Reuven Rivlin, who described the group’s actions as akin to “rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel.”

Gopstein said in December that his organization does not act illegally and accused the Shin Bet security service of trying to frame Lehava to thwart its “holy work of saving the daughters of Israel.”

The Hand in Hand school aims to foster Jewish-Arab coexistence and teaches in both Arabic and Hebrew. There are currently five Hand in Hand schools operating across the country, educating over 1,000 students in total.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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