Director of the “Lehava” organization, has been indicted for incitement to violence, racism, and terrorism

Lehava chairman Benzi Gopstein is being arrested by police outside a Christian event in Jerusalem on September 22, 2016. (Photo by Dor Kedmi/Flash90)

Ben-Zion, “Bentzi” Gopstein, the director of the “Lehava” organization, has been indicted for incitement to violence, racism, and terrorism. This indictment comes after an eight-year long judicial battle started by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. During these years they have sent evidence to the State Attorney of over 45 cases where Gopstein has used inflammatory language.

Lehava is an organization that was created by Gopstein to prevent Arab males from harassing Jewish women, but they have also arranged violent protests at weddings of mixed marriages, opposing coexistence. The organization is against any kind of assimilation and strives for an Israel “clean” from “idol worship,” which in their view includes Christianity.

In June 2019, Lehava activists tried to disrupt a Messianic concert held in the Klal building in Jerusalem, throwing live frogs and using pepper spray and whistles against the attendees. They shouted slurs like “Missionary garbage, out of Israel,” “This is our country, go back to Russia or wherever you came from,” and “Idol worship has no place in the Holy Land.”

In an article published in 2015 Gopstein demanded that Israel should suppress Christmas celebrations and expel all Christians, calling them “blood-sucking vampires.” He said that the church has tried for centuries in vain to destroy the Jewish people, and now when the Jewish people has one of the strongest armies of the world, and they can’t destroy our body anymore, they have turned to missionary activity, trying to convert and assimilate the Jews, since they can’t be killed.

In 2014, Gopstein was arrested for an arson attack against the bilingual Arabic-Hebrew school in Jerusalem which promotes coexistence, but the case was closed. The current indictment relies on five distinct events occurring between 2012 and 2017, including referring to the Muslims on the Temple Mount as a “cancer in our head,” glorifying the Jewish terror attack against Muslims in Hebron in 1994, and demanding that no Arab waiters would be present at his daughter’s wedding. In addition, he referred to the lynch of three Palestinians who were beaten unconscious in 2012 in Jerusalem that “they had it coming,” and that the Jewish youth did “what the police should have done.”

Besides violence against Muslims and Christians, Lehava has also arranged counter-demonstrations against the Jerusalem pride parade. Gopstein called it an abomination which has no place in Israel. In 2015 an orthodox extremist stabbed a pride participant to death, possibly inspired by Lehava.

Gopstein has commented the indictment, saying that the State Attorney “has decided that our fight against assimilation is racism. It’s a sad day when the State of Israel goes against the Torah. I am sure they would also indict the Maccabees for incitement and racism.”

The Anti-Defamation League, who focuses on fighting antisemitism, has also turned against Lehava. In 2016 they urged the Israeli government to clamp down on Lehava, since their “hateful discourse” is “used as a weapon by Israel’s enemies” for “rushed conclusions and generalizations about Israeli society.”

Gopstein is a member of the Political party “Otzma Yehudit,” but was banned from running for office because of laws against racism in a political party. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Gopstein’s defense attorney in this indictment, is also the head of Otzma Yehudit.