Jerusalem Court Extends Remand of Leader of anti-Arab Group Lehava

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Bentzi Gopstein, head of the anti-gentile group Lehava, in court, December 16, 2014.
Bentzi Gopstein, head of the anti-gentile group Lehava, in court, December 16, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday remanded for three days Benzi Gopstein, chairman of the right-wing, anti-Arab group Lehava, after he was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of incitement to racism.

During the remand hearing, Gopstein’s attorney, prominent Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir, told the court that the alleged offenses were out of date if they had taken place at all, and they were no reason to remand his client.

A worker cleans up in a torched classroom in an Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem November 30, 2014.Credit: Reuters

He gave as an example the fact that Gopstein had been questioned about a letter he sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he became aware that the latter’s son was dating a non-Jewish woman (from Norway), and was also questioned about an interview he gave in 2011. Judge Eitan Kornhawser stated, “An examination of the extensive material before me suggests that there is a reasonable foundation to the suspicion attributed [to Gopstein].” However, the judge also noted that a reading of the investigation in detail “suggests that the court must oversee the investigation and its findings.”

The case of nine other individuals suspected of activities in Lehava, which is being heard separately from Gopstein’s, also came before the court on Tuesday.

Police raided the residences of several members of Lehava, a right-wing, anti-Arab organization, early in the day. In total, 10 members were arrested on suspicion of incitement and calling for violent crime. The police are expected to ask the court to extend their remand.

According to Ben-Gvir, one of the three Lehava members charged on Monday with torching the Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem had offered to give police incriminating information on Gopstein, in return for a lighter sentence.

Ben-Gvir blamed the arrest on “pressure from leftist politicians.”

“Police are taking action against Lehava even though it is clear to them it’s a legal organization that overtly works against assimilation,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On said Tuesday that Lehava should be recognized as a terror group.

“Announcements and publicized arrests aren’t enough,” she said in a statement. “We must put an end to the feeble response to an organization that uses terrorism and violence against those who work toward coexistence.”

Last August, activists from the extremist anti-miscegenation group worked to disrupt the wedding celebration of a Jewish woman and a Muslim man from Jaffa. The organization held a protest, and the couple asked for supporters to come out and demonstrate against the Lehava protest, which was attended by roughly 200 activists.

Later, Lehava’s Facebook page was closed after many complaints were filed against its many inciteful remarks. The page, created in November 2013, had over 35,000 followers when it was closed. At first, it was used to identify mixed Jewish-Arab couples, and it quickly became a platform for anti-Arab remarks.

The association that runs the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem, which was attacked by arsonists – said by the Shin Bet security service to be members of Lehava – expressed anger Tuesday at the way the indictment against the three suspects in the attack was worded. The indictment stated that the three, Yitzhak Gabbai and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twito, decided to set fire to the school and spray racist graffiti on its walls “after they were made aware that the school had held a ceremony in memory of [Palestinian Authority President] Yasser Arafat a few weeks earlier.” The claim regarding the ceremony was broadcast on Channel 1; the school said no such ceremony had taken place.

“No one was ‘made aware’ of the ceremony, because neither in the school nor in the Hand in Hand community did such a ceremony take place,” the association said Tuesday. It suggested that such a claim “may have been made during the investigation, and may have found its way into the indictment, but there is no truth to it.”

“The mark of the arsonists, who dirtied the walls of the school with hateful racist slogans, left no doubt as to their motive for the attack. We expect this mistake in wording, which could serve as a pretext for the next hateful attacker, to be immediately corrected,” the association said.

The Justice Ministry Tuesday conceded that the wording of the indictment was mistaken. “The mention of a ceremony was intended as a description of the mood of the suspects who believed that such a ceremony had taken place. If it was understood differently from the indictment, we regret it.”

The Justice Ministry also said the attorney general is to decide soon whether to add incitement to the indictment.

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