that a gang of young Jewish thugs who attacked Arab men who were suspected of
having relationships with Jewish women, were for once arrested, they are not
random individuals. These attacks did
not spring out of nowhere. It is an
unwritten rule of Israeli society that liaisons, relationships and friendship
between Arab and Jew are to be avoided.
with Lehava, a fascist Zionist organisation dedicated to stopping
miscegenation, a term that used to apply to sexual and personal relationships
between Black and White people in the Deep South. Now it’s used to apply to Jewish and non-Jewish
relationships in Israel.
the ‘charitable’ wing of Lehava, the fascist anti-miscegenation group whose
film inspired some of these thugs.
Lehava itself, despite its leader Benzi Gopstein supporting
the burning down of churches and mosques, has not been made illegal, unlike any
Arab nationalist association.
itself which makes it impossible for an Arab and a Jew to marry unless one
converts to the other’s religion. Civil
marriage does not exist in Israel.
|Lehava is distinguished from other extreme-right groups by its official focus on stopping miscegenation and intermarriage between Jews and Palestinians [Getty Images]|
government whose Minister of Education and Ministry officials which banned
an Israeli novel Borderland by Dorit Rabinyan which depicted a relationship
between an Arab man and a Jewish woman.
It was not allowed on the English syllabus of Israeli high school
students for fear of affecting the national self-identity of students.
opposing the entry of asylum seekers to Israel or the continuation of their
presence is linked to the maintenance of Jewish identity.
factors that have led to a group of 17-20 year olds take the law into their own
hands in order to prevent Jewish women being sullied by a relationship with an
Arab man. They were simply fulfilling
the dictates of Zionism.
aggravated assault ■ Weapons used in the alleged attacks included knives, clubs
and metal bars
|Three of the suspects in court in Be’er Sheva, April 23, 2017. Eliyahu Hershkovitz|
were charged on Sunday in connection to a series of brutal assaults on Arab men
in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva. Police said suspects told
detectives the assaults — at least six separate incidents between December 2016
and April 6, 2017 — were carried out with the aim of stopping their targets
from pursuing romantic relationships with Jewish women.
knives, clubs, metal bars and other weapons in the assaults. Two of the
defendants are soldiers. Three of the defendants were charged with terrorism
offenses, in addition to aggravated assault.
Southern District of the State Prosecutor’s Office, before each attack the
defendants confirmed that their targets were Arab. In some cases the alleged
perpetrators concealed their faces in order to avoid being identified.
19, is accused of stabbing an Arab man as he sat in a car with a Jewish woman.
and ascertaining that the man was Arab and the woman Jewish, Amitzur pulled out
a knife and stabbed the man several times in the back, chest, abdomen and arm,
injuring the man’s kidney.
interviews with the suspects that the purpose of the assaults was “to
prevent the ‘assimilation’ of Jews and Arabs in Be’er Sheva,” and that
some of the defendants had viewed videos produced by the right-wing group
Lehava that focused on “saving Jewish women who are married to
Arabs.” One of the defendants said he supported the organization but was
not an active member.
indictment as the main suspects in the case, were charged in Be’er Sheva
District Court with terrorism, in addition to several counts of aggravated
Magistrate’s Court. They were identified as Sharon Dazanshvilli, Reuven
Koshvili and a juvenile male who was not named. They were charged in the
beating of an Arab man, an attack that also allegedly involved the three main
from meeting with their clients for a number of days after their arrest.
According to the lawyers, the suspects were subjected to “significant
emotional duress” and remained handcuffed for hours, their eyes covered,
for part of their questioning.
“difficult and long” questioning. “The basic rights of those
arrested are blocked by the iron doors of the Shin Bet cells,” said
Avichai Hajbi, a lawyer for Honenu, a nonprofit organization that defends Jews
who are accused of assaulting Arabs and Palestinians. Hajbi claimed he was
blocked by members of the security forces from meeting with one of the
to commit suicide while he was in police custody. It seems that when it comes
to Jews suspected of quarreling with Arabs their rights are forgotten, trampled
on and we are informed of new detention laws,” said Sima Cohav, a lawyer
for one of the defendants.
The far-right group stokes hatred and incites
followers to violence against Palestinians, say analysts
Lehava is distinguished from other extreme-right groups by
its official focus on stopping miscegenation and intermarriage between Jews and
Palestinians [Getty Images]
Jerusalem – Four
youths in black T-shirts, bearing a distinctive yellow-flame insignia,
approached “A” in July as he got out of a taxi in central Jerusalem
to meet friends. They asked him the time. Suspicious of his accent, they
confronted him directly: “Are you an Arab?”
“The moment I said, ‘yes,’ one of them punched me in
the eye. The others jumped on me and started hitting me all over my body. There
were many people in the area, but no one took any notice or tried to
“A” managed to break free and fled to a nearby
restaurant, where a friend worked, and hid inside. “If I hadn’t been able
to run away, they would have killed me,” he said.
His filmed testimony is one of several taken of
Palestinians in Jerusalem who have been violently assaulted recently by
far-right Jewish activists. Fearing reprisals, most of the victims agreed to
testify only on condition that their real identities were not disclosed.
The attacks were carried out by a far-right
group called Lehava, or Flame in Hebrew, an acronym for the Organisation for
the Prevention of Miscegenation in the Holy Land. Run by a far-right rabbi,
Ben-Zion Gopstein, Lehava rejects any interaction between Jews and Palestinians.
Founded in 2009, Lehava is distinguished from
other far-right groups by its official focus on stopping miscegenation and
intermarriage between Jews and Palestinians. In addition to the 300,000
Palestinians in Jerusalem, some 1.7 million of Israel’s citizens are
Palestinian by origin, making them nearly a fifth of the population.
Lehava is believed to be trying to extend its reach to a
handful of “mixed” cities in Israel where small numbers of
Palestinian citizens live in neighbourhoods close to Israeli Jews.
In 2014, some 200 Lehava supporters – many wearing the
group’s “Jewish honour guard” T-shirts – protested noisily outside
the wedding of a Palestinian man and a female Jewish convert to Islam in the
city of Jaffa, near Tel Aviv. Some carried placards with
the slogan: “Miscegenation is a Holocaust”.
Jerusalem’s streets, meanwhile, are littered with fliers and
stickers in Arabic warning, “Don’t even think about a Jewish girl”
and in Hebrew stating, “Beware the goys [a derogatory term for non-Jews] –
they will defile you”.
Lehava’s hardcore supporters number in the hundreds,
according to the Religious Action Centre, the advocacy arm of the Reform
Judaism movement, which filmed the testimonies. But it believes Gopstein can
draw on the open support of thousands more.
David Sheen, an Israeli journalist who has reported on
far-right groups for many years, told Al Jazeera: “Lehava’s aim is to rile
up Jewish youth on the streets, to create a strike force that can help
ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the main areas of Jerusalem.”
Others worry about the wider effect of Lehava’s incitement
on the climate of popular opinion in Israel.
Aviv Tartasky, a field researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli
group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera:
“The idea of rescuing Jewish women from Arabs – bringing them back to
Judaism – has wide support from Israelis, including from the left. The attitude
among most Israeli Jews is that, even if we don’t support your methods, your
violence, we approve of your goals.”
When contacted by Al Jazeera, Gopstein
Last month, Gopstein attended a memorial event
in Jerusalem for Kach’s founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane. At the rally, he waved a
cleaning rag with the face of Lucy Aharish, the only prominent TV presenter
from Israel’s Palestinian minority, saying he would wash the floor with her. He
added: “She compared me to Hamas. So we’ll make her nightmare come true”.
Gopstein, who lives in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement
next to the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank, was a student of
Kahane. He was arrested in 1990 on suspicion of murdering a Palestinian couple,
in what appeared to be retaliation for Kahane’s assassination, but was later
Before its banning, Kach openly supported the violent
expulsion of Palestinians from the region under the slogan: “Arabs to the
Arab states and Jews to Zion”. Like Lehava, one of its main activities was
preventing mixing between Jews and Palestinians.
Sheen said Lehava had created “an instantly
recognisable brand that is all about racial purity. This is just a new version
of Kach. They can’t use the same slogans without breaking the law, but the
similarities are unmistakable.” He noted that both organisations used the
same colours of black and yellow in their emblems – Kach’s was a fist, while
Lehava uses a flame.
“When Kach existed in the 1980s, it was seen as so
racist that it was likened to the Nazis and boycotted by other parties in the
parliament. It was seen as beyond the pale,” said Sheen. “Now it’s in
the mainstream. It even has supporters in the Likud party [of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu] who are happy to whitewash it.”
Yehuda Glick, a far-right activist close to Gopstein, who
demands the replacement of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem with a Jewish temple,
became a Likud member of parliament in May. Lehava’s ties with Kach were
evident during the summer, when the group hosted a series of training camps in the southern West
Bank to teach young people martial arts.
Assisting Gopstein were Itamar Ben Gvir and Noam Federman,
two former leaders of the banned movement, who tutored the young men and women
in techniques for withstanding police interrogations.
“There are racist lynch mobs roaming the
streets of Jerusalem, driven by a hatred of Arabs, and the police are showing
no interest in investigating,” Steven Beck, a spokesman for the Israel
Religious Action Centre, told Al Jazeera. The centre, which promotes equality and social justice in
Israel, video recorded the testimonies of Lehava’s victims as part of a
campaign called “Lehava is Burning Jerusalem”. It warns: “Jewish
terror is not created out of thin air. It is fueled by ideological incitement
and hatred that is spread by extremist rabbis.”
“H”, who was assaulted twice this year, filed a
complaint with the police after he was knifed in the back and shoulder by a
Lehava gang. “Until now, no action has been taken,” he said.
“The police are with them, covering for them.”
Another victim, Jamal Julani was left in a coma by a Lehava group
in 2012, when he was 17. Investigators told him none of the security cameras
were working in the area of the assault, even though it took place close to two
banks. “How that’s possible? I don’t understand,” he said.
“There are maybe 10 cameras there. How did none of them work?”
Like others, “H” said he had been left emotionally, as
well as physically, scarred. Fearful of further attacks, he said: “Now,
I’m scared to go out alone. Even if I try to fight back, everyone will shout,
‘Terrorist, terrorist’. If a policeman is passing by and sees the incident …
I’ll be the one who gets shot.”
The 300,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem, which Israel
annexed after 1967 in violation of international law, have residency permits
that entitle them to live and work in Israel. Many travel into Jerusalem’s city
centre for the nightlife and shopping not available in their own deprived
neighbourhoods, or to work in Jewish-owned restaurants and shops.
This is when many of the attacks occur, with Lehava claiming
that the Palestinian men use the visits to consort with Jewish women.
Calls for the outlawing of Lehava have grown since three
followers were found guilty last year of an arson attack on Jerusalem’s only binational
school, for Jewish and Palestinian children. The three walls were daubed with
racist slogans, such as “End miscegenation” and “No coexistence
Early last year, Moshe Yaalon, then defence
minister, was reported to be considering outlawing Lehava. By August, however,
the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, said it had no evidence on which to recommend banning the group. The
current defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu
party, is considered unlikely to try to curb Lehava’s activities.
Meanwhile, Lehava has called for boycotts of city businesses
that hire Palestinian workers. Critics say the group also intimidates landlords
who rent to Palestinian families. Dan Biron, owner of the Birman restaurant in
central Jerusalem, said Palestinians among his staff had been attacked on four
One time, he said, a mob came to his
restaurant demanding that he hand over Palestinian workers. “Send them out
so we can kill them,” he recalled. He stood his ground until they left. “There is anarchy in Jerusalem. The police do not
enforce the law here,” he said. “There are serious criminals who
wander around freely, criminals who beat up people, and the police do
The city’s Christians have found themselves increasingly
Last December, Lehava’s Gopstein called Christians “blood-sucking vampires” and
demanded they be expelled from Israel. A few months earlier he told a meeting he supported
torching churches to prevent “idol worship”. Church leaders suspect
Lehava supporters are behind a recent wave of vandalism against Christian sites
in Jerusalem and intimidation of priests and nuns.
Dozens of Lehava youths, led by Gopstein, rioted in
September at a performance by a Palestinian Armenian choir at a music festival
in a Jerusalem shopping mall. The singers were forced to leave after the youths
shouted “Jew murderers!” and “Go to Syria!”.
The Vatican filed a complaint last
year on behalf of local bishops to Israel’s attorney general, demanding that
Gopstein be indicted for incitement to violence.
Wadie Abu Nassar, spokesman for the Latin Patriarch in
Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera the Israeli authorities had not responded.
“Gopstein is continuously saying racist and inciteful things in public, so
one has to wonder why no measures have been taken against him. He seems
He added: “There is a clear backing among members of
this government for far-right groups like Lehava.”
Despite its inciteful rhetoric and connections to attacks,
Lehava has in the past received significant funding from
the Israeli government – as much as $180,000 annually through a sister charity,
Hemla. The latter runs a hostel in Jerusalem for the “rehabilitation”
of Jewish women “saved” from marriages to Palestinians.
The Israeli media revealed this month that funding to Hemla
this year has nearly doubled, to $350,000. Gopstein formally
severed Lehava’s connections to Hemla two years ago. However, the registrar of
non-governmental organisations is reported to have warned that secret ties
between the two may have continued and has recommended an investigation.
There have also been suspicions of close ties between
Israeli police and Lehava. They were fuelled in February when it emerged, following an investigation
of Gopstein’s activities, that a Border Police officer had supplied the group
with details of Jewish women dating Palestinian men.
Tartasky, of Ir Amim, told Al Jazeera: “The dominant
culture in the police regards the Palestinians as not proper residents of the
city. The police see their role as defending Jews from Palestinians, not the
other way around.”
He said Jerusalem’s politicians also contributed to an
impression that Palestinians had no place in the city. “The mayor [Nir
Barkat] has not made a single statement against Lehava, even though they are
inciting and carrying out regular attacks in the heart of his city. That has
sent a clear message that Lehava has protection.”
That impression was underscored by statements from Barkat’s
deputy, Meir Turgeman, in September, following the arrest of a Jerusalem
resident, Mesbah Abu Sabih, on suspicion of
killing two Israelis. Turgeman said he would “punish” the Palestinian population of East
Jerusalem for their “animal behaviour … There are no carrots left, only
Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, denied
that the police were failing to take Lehava’s violence seriously. “There
has been a significant rise in the number of patrols in the centre of Jerusalem
to prevent such incidents,” he told Al Jazeera. He added that the police were “dispersing” gangs
of Lehava youth as soon as they were identified.The legal authorities have been accused of
failing to rein in Lehava, too. Beck said the Religious Action Centre had submitted 25
complaints to the attorney general against Gopstein for incitement but had not
received a response. In April, a Jerusalem judge ruled that Gopstein had made
an “honest mistake” in beating up two left-wing Jewish activists when
they entered a West Bank settlement.
Gopstein claimed he had believed they were Palestinians.
Video footage showed Israeli police arresting the two
victims rather than Gopstein. One of Lehava’s public services is a hotline so
that Israeli Jews can inform on family or friends who are dating non-Jews. Beck
said: “Lehava has perpetuated a lie that thousands of Jewish women are
being held against their will by Palestinians in abusive marriages. It stokes
hatred and incites followers to violence.”
In reality, official figures show that only a tiny number of marriages
between Israeli Jews and Palestinians occur. In 2011, the year for which
official figures were released, there were only 19 such marriages. Nonetheless,
the group has quickly pushed miscegenation on to the political agenda. Back in
2011, Gopstein was invited by Tzipi Hotovely, now the acting foreign minister,
to advise a parliamentary committee set up to investigate the issue.
And, in recent months, the education ministry has banned two famous Hebrew novels depicting
relationships between a Jew and an Arab from the school curriculum. Polls
indicate that that Lehava’s playing up of a supposed miscegenation threat from
Palestinians resonates with many Israeli Jews. A survey from 2007 found that more than half believed
intermarriage between Jews and Palestinians were “treason“.
In 2013, similar numbers said they wanted Palestinians, including
those with Israeli citizenship, expelled from the region. However, some Israeli
Jews in Jerusalem have started to fight back against Lehava. Since 2014, a
group named “Talking in the Square” has been organising
counter-demonstrations in Zion Square, where Lehava stages a weekly rally.
One of their activists, Ossnat Sharon, said they tried to “keep an eye on
[Lehava], curbing their attempts at violence as best we can.” Tartasky said Lehava’s rapid growth in
popularity should be seen in part as “a backlash” to the greater
presence of Palestinians in central Jerusalem in recent years.
Palestinians were venturing into the city centre in bigger
numbers, he said, because their own neighbourhoods had been cut off from nearby
Ramallah and other Palestinian cities of the West Bank by Israel’s completion
of its so-called separation barrier.
Better public transport links after Israel opened its light
rail system have also contributed to the trend of Palestinians seeking work and
entertainment in Jerusalem’s city centre. “Lehava’s growth indicates how
uncomfortable some Israelis have become with seeing Palestinians in what they
consider to be their city,” he said. “It has given them a sense of
grievance and increased their extremism.”