Right-wing extremists rioted during a performance by a Christian choir at a contemporary arts event in Jerusalem on Thursday. The police arrested two members of the anti-assimilationist Lehava organization, including its leader, Bentzi Gopstein.
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Dozens of extremists infiltrated the Manofim contemporary arts festival event, being held in the Clal Center mall, and clashed with attendees. The event was the finale of Manofim’s ninth annual festival. Organizers had wanted to take advantage of the circular shape of the Clal Center interior, one of the oldest commercial centers in Jerusalem.
Various choirs performed on the ground floor during the evening while hundreds of people stood on the floors above to watch.
The right-wing demonstration erupted during the performance by the city’s Armenian Church Choir. An eyewitness said the disruption started when the choir began singing, and that it took a long time for the police to arrive.
Meanwhile, Gopstein and other activists allegedly shouted at the choir, “Christians!”, “Go to Syria!”, “Jew murderers!” and more. The choir was forced to stop performing after one song.
Following the event, security guards and police blocked the entrance, and several Lehava members gathered in front of the building and protested that they were not allowed to go inside.
“Two right-wing activists were arrested after they refused to obey police orders, and continued to interfere with the event and disrupted the public order with shouts and confrontations with police,” the police said in a statement.
Right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir claimed that officers hit Gopstein in the head during the clash, adding that Gopstein needed medical treatment for his injuries.
Rinat Edelstein and Lee He Shulov, the directors-curators of the Manofim festival, said in a statement: “We are still shocked and pained about the violent and vulgar behavior of Lehava, headed by Bentzi Gopstein. We wish to express our solidarity with the Armenian choir that was forced to leave the event because of Lehava’s violence against them.
“We were shocked to find that in Israel in 2016, such a violent organization is not outlawed and its members are not sitting in jail,” they added.
Rabbi Noa Sattath, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which organized a counterdemonstration against Lehava on Thursday evening, said, “The fact that Lehava thugs do not rest for a moment, and that while hundreds of citizens — Jews and Arabs — demonstrate against them, they choose to violently interrupt religious Christian activities, is clear proof that the head of this criminal organization, Bentzi Gopstein, should be prosecuted as quickly as possible, before more blood is spilled in the capital.”