In recent weeks, numerous requests, including from the Israeli police, have been made to Israel's Attorney General to launch a criminal investigation into a group called Lehava, which is dedicated to preventing Jews, particularly Jewish women, from mixing with Palestinians and other non-Jews. The requests come in the wake of a series of violent assaults carried out against Palestinians by Israeli Jews fueled by rumors or the mistaken belief that Jewish women had been harassed by Palestinian men. So far, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has failed to take any action against Lehava, which receives indirect financial and political support from the government.
In the most high-profile case, in mid-August several Palestinian teenagers were attacked and one of them severely beaten by a group of young Israeli Jews in Jerusalem in what witnesses and police described as a "lynching." According to police, the attack took place after a Jewish girl claimed she had been raped by an Arab man a few weeks earlier, prompting her friends to roam the neighborhood looking for Palestinian men to assault. Just last week, another Palestinian man was beaten and had his leg broken by a group of Jewish teens as he attempted to help a Jewish female friend who had been drinking get home safely. Five Jewish teenagers were arrested, one of whom claimed that he acted because "the Arab was exploiting a Jewish girl."
LEHAVA: STATE-SPONSORED INCITEMENT
Established in 2009, Lehava is the Hebrew acronym for "Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land."
Many of Lehava's members, including head Benny Gopstein, are followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who espoused virulently racist, anti-Arab views. Kahane's Kach movement was labeled a terrorist organization and outlawed by Israel and the United States after Kach follower Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians as they prayed at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.
According to a May 2011 investigation by Haaretz Magazine, leading Lehava members, including Gopstein, have close ties to a government-funded non-profit organization, also run by Kach followers, called Hemla ("Mercy"), which claims to help "girls from broken homes who are in danger of forced conversion and of becoming involved in crime." According to the report, since 2005, Hemla has received between $150,000 and $175,000 (USD) each year from the Israeli government, providing about half of its operating budget. Gopstein is identified as Hemla's "director of public relations" and receives a salary of about $10,000 (USD) a year. In 2010, Hemla director Rachel Baranes told a reporter that Hemla was established to help in "saving Jewish girls from assimilation, whether it's foreign workers, Arabs, [or] people with no connection to our religion."
In February 2011, Gopstein was invited to testify before the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women by Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, in a discussion on "assimilation." He warned the committee about the alleged dangers of Jews and non-Jews mixing, and urged the government to do more to fight against it and to "bring more talk about Judaism, more talk against assimilation, into the schools."
In August 2012, days after a high-profile attack by dozens of Jewish teenagers on four young Palestinians in West Jerusalem that was described as a "lynching" by police, Lehava members distributed flyers in East Jerusalem warning Arabs not to visit the western, mostly Jewish, part of Jerusalem. The flyers, which were titled "Dear Arab guy," stated in Hebrew on one side and broken Arabic on the other:
We don't want you to get hurt!... If you are thinking of visiting Jerusalem malls or the pedestrian street [Midrechov] with the intention of dating Jewish girls - this isn't the place for you. You may walk around in your own village freely and find girlfriends there, not here! Last week an Arab who thought he might find Jewish girls got hurt. We don't wish for you to get hurt, so respect our daughters' honor. As we mind it dearly! - Lehava organization
According to police, the attack took place after a Jewish girl claimed she had been raped by an Arab man a few weeks earlier. Following the attack, Gopstein praised the assailants in an interview captured on video (click "CC" for English subtitles), saying they "lifted Jewish honor from the floor and did what the police are supposed to do."
In May 2012, Lehava members distributed phony wedding invitations in Jerusalem that asked people to join "Michal [a Jewish name] and Mohammad as they celebrate their marriage on a Friday night at the Shahid (martyr) events hall in Ramallah," with a warning that: "If you don't want your daughter's wedding invitation to look like this then... Don't let her work with Arabs or do national service with non-Jews, don't let her work in place that employs enemies and don't bring home migrant workers."
In the summer of 2011, Lehava launched a campaign called "Coast Guard" to prevent Jewish women from mingling with Arab men on beaches.
In December 2010, Lehava initiated and distributed a letter signed by the wives of some 30 prominent rabbis urging Jewish women not to date, socialize, or work with Arabs. The letter, whose signatories included the wife of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which sits in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, stated: "Don't date them, don't work where they work and don't perform National Service with them."
Also in December 2010, Lehava organized a rally to protest against Jews renting apartments to non-Jews in the city of Bat Yam, and started a telephone hotline for Jewish Israelis to "report" other Jews who rent apartments to Arabs.
In March 2010, Lehava made international news when it issued a letter, written by far-right activist Baruch Marzel, calling on Israeli model Bar Refaeli to break up with American actor Leonardo DiCaprio because he isn't Jewish.
In 2010, Lehava called for a boycott of a supermarket in a West Bank settlement that employed Palestinian men alongside Jewish women.
Lehava also offers a service providing kosher approval of businesses that don't employ Arabs.
In July 2012, Lehava posted a video on its website of two former members of the Haganah, precursor to the Israeli army, bragging about castrating Palestinian men during Israel's creation.
Details about the history and organizational structure of Lehava are murky, but it was reportedly founded by Mosis Zion in 2009, and is led by Benny Gopstein who is variously described in the press as Lehava's "director" or "chairman."
Benny Gopstein (or Benzi/ Bentzi Gofshtein)
Gopstein is a local town council member for the settlement of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
According to Haaretz newspaper, in 1990 Gopstein was arrested on suspicion of murdering an Arab couple who were shot to death not long after Meir Kahane was assassinated by an Egyptian national in New York City. He was later released, and no one was convicted of the crime.
Following the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron by Kach follower Baruch Goldstein, whom Gopstein has called a "hero," Gopstein was placed under administrative detention, a practice Israeli authorities usually reserve for Palestinians, because of his ties to the Kach movement.
Marzel has a lengthy police record, including assaults on Palestinians for which he received suspended prison sentences, vandalizing Palestinian cars, and provoking disturbances in Palestinian towns in the occupied West Bank.
In March 2006, Marzel called for the murder of Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery. He also blamed an outbreak of bird flu in southern Israel on Israel's withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 under the so-called "disengagement" plan.
Marzel is also notorious for his anti-gay views, stating before a gay pride parade in 2010 that homosexuality "is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways... [W]hen someone has AIDS they tell them not to infect others, so why are these people allowed to march here in Jerusalem and infect us with their disease?"