Adalah demands criminal investigation into charges of incitement by the Director General of the “Lehava” organization

Gopstein’s statements constitute clear evidence of engagement in racial incitement, part of extremely hostile attacks against Arabs that are undertaken with almost total impunity.

On 6 August 2015, Adalah sent an urgent letter to the Attorney General (AG) demanding the opening of a criminal investigation against the Director General of “Lehava”, Bentzi Gopstein, on suspicion of racial incitement and incitement to violence. Gopstein made inflammatory statements at a symposium for yeshiva students held last week in Jerusalem.


The panel was debating whether Jews are commanded to eliminate idol worship, as the Rambam (Maimonides) states. The religious Haredi website “Kikar Shabbat” published a recording of a seminar in which Gopstein was asked clearly about the burning of churches in the context of this debate. The questioner asked: "Bentzi, do you support the burning [of churches] or not?" Gopstein answered: "Of course I support, of course (..) simply, yes, what’s the question?"


Adalah Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh wrote in the letter that: "Recent statements made by Gopstein, in addition to his previous statements and the activity of his organization [“Lehava”], constitute clear evidence that Gopstein engaged in racial incitement." These statements call for public violence against Christians and Arab citizens of the state. 


Gopstein’s statements reinforce recent highly aggressive trends prevailing in Israeli Jewish society. They constitute part of a series of extremely hostile attacks against Arabs that are undertaken with almost total impunity and a lack of accountability. Adalah emphasized that, "We are witnessing an escalation in violence in recent years against Palestinians everywhere – operations called “price tag” - against Palestinians in the 1967 Occupied Territory as well as against Palestinian citizens of Israel.” 


Gopstein’s inflammatory statements increase the severity of the impact of recent events including Israeli settlers’ burning of the Palestinian family’s house in Duma in the occupied West Bank, in which an 18-month old baby, Ali Dawabsheh, was killed, and the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication (Loaves and Fishes) in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, by activists associated with extreme right-wing organizations. 


Notably, Lehava is a radical, right wing Zionist organization, similar to the banned Kach party, its precursor. Lehava works to prevent inter-marriage between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel; the taxi driving by Arabs of Israeli Jewish customers; and the rental and sale of houses to Arabs.  The General Security Services (GSS, Shabak, Shin Bet) recently decided not to outlaw the Lehava organization, despite its members’ involvement in violent, criminal activities such as the burning of the Hand-by-Hand Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem in 2014.

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