Israel Must Ban Racist Group Lehava

Lehava excels at inciting racism and should go the same way as its predecessor, the banned Kach party.

Dror Mizrahi
Dror Mizrahi
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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
Dror Mizrahi
Dror Mizrahi

The Lehava organization received a great deal of exposure and public attention in August, when it decided to “devote itself” to the wedding of Morel Malka and Mahmoud Mansour. The group’s leaders and members, who see themselves as protecting Jewish women against assimilation, launched a series of dangerous and violent activities, first and foremost a demonstration outside the wedding whose goal was to disrupt it and ruin the couple’s happiness.

When I wrote an article in Haaretz at the time urging that Lehava be outlawed, many people asked me how it was possible that I of all people, as someone who sanctifies freedom of expression and human rights, could call for restricting the freedom of expression of any person or organization. But the results of inaction weren’t long in coming: The bilingual Hebrew–Arabic school in Jerusalem was torched, Lehava members confessed to the deed, and recently, the group’s leaders were arrested as well.

Lehava was founded by Benzi Gopstein, a one-time member of the Kach party, which was outlawed because of its racist, inflammatory views. At first, Lehava functioned rather like an underground operation – it deployed a handful of activists here and there and disseminated a lot of propaganda against “assimilation,” and especially against marriages between Jews and Arabs.

But the organization gained prominence at demonstrations held during this summer’s war in Gaza. The group’s leadership, first and foremost Gopstein, set out to inflame tempers by making inciting, racist statements. At some demonstrations called by peace organizations to protest the Gaza operation, the left-wing activists were even told to go home afterward in groups for fear that Lehava members might follow and attack them. And thus, Lehava’s campaign continued: At every opportunity, the group never hesitated to interject racist statements, to incite, to agitate.

An investigative report published last year by journalist Ohad Hemo of Channel 2 television, which presents impressions from the wedding of Gopstein’s daughter, was subsequently uploaded to the Internet. In it, one can see Lehava activists and the groom doing a “knife dance” to the sounds of “Zochreni na,” [a song calling explicitly for vengeance, based on a passage in Judges, uttered by Samson.] The pictures spoke for themselves.

But calls for outlawing the organization fell on deaf ears. A letter sent by Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On to the former justice minister didn’t help. The public atmosphere continued to absorb the stench of this organization, which proclaimed its racist, violent doctrine from every possible platform, including the horror show of Gopstein’s appearance on Channel 10, in which he told Israeli Arab television host Lucy Aharish that she doesn’t belong in Israel. From that moment on, it was just a countdown to the explosion.

The old adage that one shouldn’t rejoice in the downfall of one’s enemies isn’t applicable in this case. Lehava and Gopstein are enemies of freedom of expression and democracy, and their arrest was necessary and urgent. The destruction Lehava sowed in Israeli society during its years of operation, and especially the past year, was horrendous.

The persecution of Arabs in Jerusalem, the harassment of Morel and Mahmoud and many other couples, the torching of the bilingual school – none of this sufficed to waken the law enforcement agencies from their slumber. But then it finally happened, and they were arrested.

Now, it’s necessary to ensure that this organization is outlawed officially and clearly. It must sit alongside its colleague, the Kach party, on the bench reserved for violent organizations that are considered illegitimate in Israel.

The author is a member of the Meretz executive, a political science student at Bar-Ilan University and a leader of the effort to outlaw Lehava.

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