Far-right leader Bentzi Gopstein, chairman of the Israeli anti-miscegenation Lehava organization, was indicted on Tuesday for incitement to racism, violence and terror following a series of statements he has made against Arabs. The indictment follows a petition to the Supreme Court filed by the Reform movement, among others.
The first charge of incitement to violence relates to a 2012 video clip from the Arutz Sheva website, in which Gopstein comments on an attack by a number of Jews against three Arab youths in Jerusalem. “It seems here that the youths raised Jewish honor up from the floor and did what the police should have done, carried out justice against the Arab rioters who harassed Jewish girls,” he said.
He continued, "A young Arab man who wants to find a girl should look in his own village, he shouldn’t come to us in Jerusalem, not in the mall. He should look for it in their village and harass them. Jewish girls are not fair game.”
The second charge of incitement to violence involved a 2013 television interview with Avri Gilad on Channel 12. When asked what Lehava would do in cases in which a Jewish woman fell in love with an Arab man and wanted to live with him, Gopstein replied: “There are those who deserve to have violence used against them. Yes, if an Arab hits on a Jewish woman, talk is not what’s needed. An Arab who hits on a Jewish woman I don't think needs to keep walking down the street too much with his Jewish woman.”
The same year, Gopstein made other statements that would see him charged with incitement to violence. In Channel 12 journalist Ohad Hemo's report "The wedding of the year for the Hilltop Youth," Gopstein said, "My first prerequisite for attending a wedding is there are no Palestinians…Let’s say that if there was an Arab waiter here he wouldn't have been serving the food. He would have been looking for the nearest hospital.”
The charge of incitement to racism stems from Gopstein's remarks at the 2014 memorial rally for Meir Kahane. "The enemies that are within us are a cancer," he said. "And if we do not take this cancer and get rid of it, we will not continue to exist and Jews will die here every day. The Temple Mount is the largest cancerous growth that we have here, and so long as the government of Israel will not get a hold of itself and remove this growth from the Temple Mount, we will not succeed in bringing full redemption to the country."
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The final charge, incitement to terror, relates to Gopstein's speech at a Nof Hagalil (then Upper Nazareth) wedding in 2017. According to the indictment, Gopstein took the stage and sang "Baruch Hagever" – or blessed is the man – "who entered the cave, aimed his gun and fired," a play on a biblical verse from Jeremiah, and a reference to Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Afterwards, Gopstein riled up the audience and cried, "Muhammad is dead, Muhammad is dead."
In response to the charges, Gopstein said, "Something has befallen Israel." Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, "agents of the Reform movement in the legal system, decided that the war against miscegenation is racism," he said. "It is a dark day when the prosecutor and attorney general in the State of Israel come out unequivocally against the Torah of Israel."
His lawyer, Itamar Ben Gvir, said that the indictment "embodies the persecution and silencing of Gopstein," he said. "What they don't do to the chief inciters from the Arab community or members of the extreme left, they do to Gopstein."
The Israel Religious Action Center, the legal-civil arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, released a statement saying that "The indictment is a fitting step that should have happened a long time ago, in light of Gopstein's severe statements and actions."
The director of the center's legal department, Orly Erez-Likhovski, added that the charges, filed against "one of the greatest of inciters in Israel, is an important step that symbolizes that racist remarks, and of course violent acts rooted in racism, are illegitimate and law enforcement will deal with them to the fullest extent and severity."
Before the last election, the High Court of Justice ruled that Gopstein, along with Baruch Marzel, would not be allowed to run for Knesset on the Otzma Yehudit slate. The justices wrote that there are “dozens of pieces of evidence that prima facie provide a clear, unequivocal and open picture" that in his statements and actions as the head of Lehava, "Gopstein has systemically incited racism against the Arab public, deeply in the forbidden realm of incitement to racism.”
The justices added, “Gopstein presents the Arab public in general as the enemy, and as those with whom no contact should be made that could be interpreted as coexistence.” His statements “reveal a new low in racist discourse, the likes of which we have never known in the past.”