In First, ADL Urges Clampdown on Extremist Israeli Group Lehava

Lehava leader Gopstein leads 'an extreme line with direct implications to Israeli society and the Jewish people,' ADL says in letter to attorney general.

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

Citing concerns for the future of Israeli democracy and society, the Anti-Defamation League has urged the government to clamp down on Lehava, a radical anti-assimilation organization, and its leader Bentzi Gopstein.

In a letter sent this week to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and obtained by Haaretz, the U.S.-based ADL warned that Israel’s continued tolerance of Lehava’s “hateful discourse,” while detrimental to Israeli society, was also “used as a weapon by Israel’s enemies, who use it as a basis for their rushed conclusions and generalizations about Israeli society.”

The letter, signed by Carol Nuriel, executive director of the ADL office in Israel, refrained from recommending specific measures against the far-right organization, which is both vehemently anti-Arab and anti-Christian. “We call on you to act by whatever means the law allows to draw a clear red line before this phenomenon that is so dangerous to Israel’s society and democracy,” wrote Nuriel. 

The ADL, which has been active in Israel for 40 years, has never before sent a direct appeal to the Israeli attorney general.

In explaining the organization’s decision to make this approach, Nuriel wrote: “We see it fit to turn to you concerning Mr. Gopstein specifically because he and the organization he heads are leading an extreme line with direct implications to Israeli society and the Jewish people.”

The letter to Mendelblit notes that Gopstein has referred to Christians as “bloodsucking vampires,” that he has condoned burning down churches, and that his Facebook page, in which he also rants against the LGBT community, includes posts that are “extremely abusive, racist, inflammatory and violent.”

Meanwhile, the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel, launched its own online campaign and petition this week to outlaw Lehava. Noting that law enforcement authorities have thus far “turned a blind eye” to Lehava, the petition calls on the newly appointed attorney general to take action against the organization and its leader. 

“Jewish terror is not created out of thin air,” it says. “It is fueled by ideological incitement and hatred that is spread by radical rabbis like Bentzi Gopstein. It is backed up by activities organized and executed by extremist hate groups like Lehava.”