Leader of anti-Arab Group Disinvited From Speaking at Knesset Hearing on Sexual Harassment

Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein had been invited to present data on alleged harassment of Jewish women by Arab men

File photo of Israeli settler Benzi Gopstein, the leader of the extreme right-wing movement Lehava, Organization for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land being escorted out of a hearing at a Jerusalem court on December 18, 2014, after being arrested.
AFP PHOTO/ GALI TIBBON

Bentzi Gopstein, the head of an Israeli right-wing extremist group called Lehava, known for its anti-Arab activities, had his invitation to a Knesset hearing on sexual harrasment resinded Sunday.

MK Miki Zohar (Likud) canceled his invitation to Gopstein, the chairman of Lehava, after coming under pressure from opposition Knesset members. A member of Lehava will instead, however, speak in his place at the hearing scheduled for Monday, Zohar said. 

Zohar, who is the chairman of the Knesset’s Committee on Distributive Justice, had invited Gopstein to present data he said he collected on the alleged harassment of Jewish women by Arab men in Israeli cities with mixed Jewish-Arab populations. Lehava is mostly known for its activities against Arab men they suspect of having romantic ties with Jewish women.

When Gopstein and representatives of Lehava and Yad L’Achim, both organizations that work to prevent romantic relationships between Arabs and Jews were invited, opposition MKs called on the Knesset speaker and its legal adviser to cancel the hearing.

Last week Gopstein was summoned to a pretrial hearing for charges he faces on incitement to violence, racist incitement and incitement to terror, as well as obstruction of justice.

Zohar was defiant even after bowing to prssure to disinvite Gopstein.

“If there is a place for organizations like Breaking the Silence and B’tselem, there is also a place for Lehava. I don’t understand this superfluous criticism.," said Zohar referring to two left-wing Israseli organizations.

"Nevertheless, given the concern that this important and serious hearing that I plan to conduct on sexual harassment of women in the periphery will turn into a circus, I have asked Lehava to send another representative on their behalf instead of Gopstein,” he said. 

Opposition MKs Aida Touma-Suliman (Joint List) and Michal Rozin (Meretz) argued that the Committee for Distributive Justice was going beyond its mandate. They claimed that the committee was encroaching on the territory of the Committee on the Status of Women by choosing to deal with sexual harassment.

“Gopstein wasn’t the only problem with the hearing,” said Touma-Suliman, who chairs the Committee on the Status of Women. “The problem is Lehava and Yad L’Achim and a long list of participants with a history of racist comments and activities. The hearing undermines the authority of the Committee on the Status of Women, which is responsible for the issue of sexual harassment, while it will also be a platform for incitement and the cynical exploitation of the pain of women who are victims of sexual harassment.”

Touma-Suliman added that in a hearing conducted by the Committee on the Status of Women, police representatives said that the numbers presented recently by a Knesset member on sexual harrasement in mixed cities from the government’s ruling coalition were inflated. She said the data showed that there had actually been a drop in such cases in mixed cities.

Gopstein was a follower of the late American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was considered the founder of militant far-right Jewish politics in Israel. He advocatrd for deporting Arabs en masse from Israel.

Lehava, an acronym which stands for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land, is fiercly anti-miscegenist and has been denounced by officials in Israel, including President Reuven Rivlin.