Police to probe extremist leader for anti-Christian comments
State prosecution calls for investigation of Lehava’s Bentzi Gopstein for article branding Christians ‘vampires’
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
The Israel Police will reportedly launch an investigation into the head of a sometimes violent anti-Arab group over an article he published late last year.
In December, Bentzi Gopstein, the long-time head of the Lehava organization, penned an article titled “To overthrow the vampires,” in which he called Christians living in Israel “blood-suckers.”
In the piece, published on the right-wing website Kooker, he called on all willing Jews to raise a cry “and fight the devious phenomenon” of Christianity, which he also referred to as “that accursed religion.”
“The Christian is no longer considered a threatening vampire, rather a pleasant, friendly tourist and partner in the Western culture that dominates our lives,” Gopstein said, blaming the Israeli education system for not instilling enough Jewish values in students. “The vampires can send a message of thanks to the government of Israel for making their work much easier.”
In response, the Israel Religious Action Committee, which is affiliated with the Reform Movement, called on Israel to open a criminal case against him.
“Benzi Gopstein stops at nothing in inciting against anyone who is not him – Arab Muslims, Christians and others, using harsh language and calling for violence. Unfortunately… in the face of this incitement… law enforcement is deafeningly silent,” Orly Erez-Likhovski, head of the Religious Action Center’s legal department, said in a statement in December.
After examining the IRAC’s request, the State Prosecutor’s Office “instructed the police to complete its investigation,” a spokesperson for the prosecutor told the Haaretz newspaper.
“We welcome the decision to launch an investigation against Bentzi Gopstein for his wild incitement against Christians. We hope the investigation will be swift and end in the prosecution of one of the great inciters,” Erez-Likhovski said in a report Sunday night.
Gopstein has been arrested and detained by police several times in recent years, but has never been convicted of inciting his followers to violence.
Lehava, which some lawmakers have tried to designate a terrorist group, has frequently called for action to be taken against non-Jews and homosexuals in order to “save the daughters of Israel,” in Gopstein’s words.
In November 2014, three members of the group set fire to a Jerusalem school that teaches Muslims, Christians and Jews. The group also regularly holds demonstrations in contentious areas in the capital’s Old City and in other parts of Israel with a large Arab population, and its members have been known to physically assault Arabs.
“The prosecution must understand that right-wingers also have freedom of expression. The article was written against missionaries, those who try to proselytize and whose activities are illegal. Apparently no one in the prosecution actually read the article,” Gopstein’s attorney, the far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir, said in response to the investigation.
In August, Gopstein called for the burning of churches during a public panel discussion, telling his fellow presenters he was prepared to sit in prison for decades for saying so.
“The law is straightforward, Maimonides’ interpretation is that one must burn idolatry. There’s not a single rabbi that would deliberate that fact. I expect the government of Israel to carry that out,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.