Activists Ask Israel's High Court to Outlaw Far-right Jewish Gang

Petition claims that Lehava has become a hate organization that spreads racism and violence against Arabs and Christians

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014.
Members of right-wing organization Lehava protesting the wedding of a Jewish-born woman and a Muslim man in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2014. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Reform movement, Jewish activist groups and the Palestinian victim of a lynching have petitioned the High Court of Justice, calling on the state and the attorney general to indict the leader of the far-right, anti-assimilationist group Lehava for incitement to racism and incitement to violence, and to declare the organization a criminal organization.

The petition describes the development of the Lehava organization headed by Ben-Zion Gopstein, its activity and the impotence of the police and State Prosecutor’s Office with regard to the organization.

The first petitioner is Jamal Julani from Jerusalem, who as a 17-year-old in 2012 was attacked by young Jews in central Jerusalem after they identified him as Arab. The other petitioners are the Israel Religious Action Center, the Tag Meir Forum, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Coalition Against Racism.

The petition claims that Lehava, which was established in 2009, has become a hate organization that spreads racism and violence against Arabs and Christians by means of posters, newsletters, conferences, demonstrations and social media.

The petitioners see a link between this activity and violent attacks against Arabs in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

“Under Gopstein’s leadership, Lehava activists meet regularly almost every Thursday evening in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, carrying the organization’s flag and wearing its uniform, and distribute newsletters and stickers with inciting and racist content,” the petition stated.

“The participants often conduct marches at night in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, chanting racist slogans. The violent attacks during and after the gatherings are closely and inseparably related to the unbridled incitement of the organization’s members and its leader,” it said.

The petitioners also wrote that “on Thursday evenings, the Arab residents of Jerusalem are afraid to walk around in the city center for fear of being attacked.”

For the past seven years, the IRAC and the Coalition Against Violence have been asking the state prosecutor and the police to investigate and prosecute Gopstein and the other Lehava activists. They filed a petition three years ago, but this was erased after the police started investigating Lehava activists and even detained its senior members. Since then, though, there have been no indictments and their activity continues.

“Gopstein is leading a violent and racist struggle against Arabs under cover of a battle against assimilation,” said Tag Meir chairman Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu. “In the past five years, 10 churches have been set on fire or desecrated by criminals who were incited by Lehava’s leader, among others,” Gvaryahu alleged.

IRAC Rabbi Noa Sattath said she hoped the court would put an end to the situation, and claimed that Lehava “undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy.”

The Justice Ministry said the state will respond to the petition in court.

Lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is representing Gopstein, told Haaretz that the purpose of the petition was to apply pressure for an indictment against his client, and claimed that “Gopstein will be acquitted, since nothing they have brought against him constitutes a violation of the law, and because freedom of expression is a supreme value in the State of Israel.” He added that for the Reform movement, which demonstrates and calls for “freedom of expression,” this freedom is meant only for their own needs and not for other groups.

The police said in response: “The police act with resolve night and day to prevent attacks and attempted attacks on individuals or on their property. In so doing, we use all the tools and means at our disposal.”

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