The center-left Zionist Union party on Monday praised the police decision to investigate the far-right activist Bentzi Gopstein, and called on the attorney general to ban his extremist Lehava organization.
Gopstein, head of a radical organization acting to prevent intermarriage between Jews and Arabs, said last week he saw a religious imperative to attack churches and mosques in Israel.
“Calling [him] in for an interrogation is a first step,” the party said in a statement. “The Zionist Union reiterates its demand that the attorney general recommend the government make the inciting Lehava organization illegal.
“The Lehava organization implements the philosophy of [Rabbi Meir] Kahane, which was outlawed in Israel before the era of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Gopstein exploits the atmosphere Netanyahu created in Israel, where each person can incite and act upon this incitement. [Netanyahu] must come back to his senses and stop inciting and dividing public opinion, before more such groups spring up in the country,” the statement continued.
The statement was issued hours after police summoned Gopstein for questioning over his comments on burning churches in Israel.
Gopstein made his remarks last week during a panel debate on Jewish religious law, and come against the backdrop of an arson attack, allegedly carried out by Jewish extremists, that burned large sections of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in June. In late July, a firebombing attack on a Palestinian house in the West Bank village of Duma killed a baby and his father.
During the panel session, Benny Rabinovitch, editor of the ultra-Orthodox paper Yated Neeman, asked Gopstein point-blank whether he advocated the burning of churches, according to a recording of the debate published last Wednesday by the ultra-Orthodox new site Kikar Hashabat.
“Maimonides…,” Gopstein started, apparently alluding to the rulings of the 12th-century Jewish sage. “You must burn [churches], are you against Maimonides or in favor of Maimonides?”
“Don’t tell me about Maimonides, I asked you what you say,” Rabinovitch replied.
“Of course I am,” Gopstein said.
Gopstein later clarified his remarks, saying, “The [religious] law is straightforward: Maimonides’ interpretation is that one must burn idolatry. There’s not a single rabbi that would question that fact. I expect the government of Israel to carry that out.”
Over the weekend, leaders of the Catholic Church in Israel filed an incitement complaint against Gopstein over his comments. The complaint was filed in coordination with the Vatican, and was formulated by a committee that included over 20 bishops and archbishops from across Israel.