Far-right Activist Gopstein Acquitted of Assaulting Israeli Leftists

The judge dismissed the case against Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein on the grounds that he may have thought he was attacking Palestinians.

Bentzi Gopstein during an anti-Arab protest in Afula, 2015.
Gil Eliyahu

A far-right, anti-Arab activist was acquitted on Sunday of assaulting two left-wing activists because the judge said that he could have thought the two people he attacked were Palestinians.

The incident for which Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava anti-assimilation organization, was indicted occurred in August 2008. Left-wing activists who were in Hebron at the time said they saw settlers throwing stones at Palestinian houses, so two of them, Ezra Nawi and Daniel Dokorovich, went over to the settlers’ houses to tell them to stop. On the way, they ran into Gopstein, who attacked both of them with his fists to keep them from approaching.

The indictment was based on video footage of the incident, and Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dov Pollock said the footage clearly showed that an assault took place: Gopstein “pushed Ezra and Elad [another activist] and hit their fingers when they tried to climb the fence, and later pushed Daniel and Ezra.”

Nevertheless, he accepted Gopstein’s argument that at the time the incident occurred, he had good reason to think the two people trying to climb the fence might be Palestinian residents of Hebron who were liable to attack the Jewish residents. Moreover, he noted, military orders forbid Palestinians from entering Hebron’s Jewish enclave, so had the two men actually been Palestinians, they would have been trying to enter the area illegally.

Pollock acknowledged that this line of defense is valid only if Gopstein could legitimately have thought the Jewish activists were Palestinians. However, he wrote, that wasn’t inconceivable, because “the groups that come to protest [in Hebron] often contain both Jewish leftists and Palestinian Arabs.”

Assaf Sharon, the left-wing activist who videotaped the assault, said in response to the acquittal. “Any reasonable person who watched the video clip and then read the verdict couldn’t help but be impressed by Judge Pollock’s acrobatics.”

After the verdict was handed down, Gopstein wrote on his Facebook page, “There’s no doubt my actions were justified, and when I saw Nawi and his gang breaking into the neighborhood, I defended the residents. Had I known it was Nawi, I believe I would have acted more forcefully. It’s time for the prosecution to put Nawi on trial.”

Gopstein’s attorney, Itzhak Bam, said, “Ezra Nawi is a man who is all provocation, and I’m happy with the decision of the court, which didn’t buy the provocations of Ezra Nawi and his anarchist friends.”