Knesset defense panel head calls for designating far-right Lehava a terror group

The head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday urged Defense Minister Benny Gantz to designate the extremist Jewish Lehava group as a terror organization.

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak, a former Mossad intelligence agency deputy chief, appealed to Gantz to “exercise your authority as defense minister” and kickstart a “swift and determined effort that will culminate with the designation of Lehava as a terror organization and outlaw the organization and its activists.”

In his appeal, the former Mossad deputy invoked Lehava’s support for extremist late rabbi Meir Kahane; the incitement to racism conviction of its current leader; and the recent banning of some of its members from major social media platforms over alleged incitement to violence.

Previous attempts by Israeli governments to outlaw Lehava, including in 2015 by then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, made little headway. But Ben-Barak argued that the effort was held up by lacunae in Israel’s terror laws on how to ban such groups. The counterterrorism laws were overhauled in 2016, now enabling the designation, he said.

“In a normal state, there is no immunity for those engaged in terrorism,” said Ben-Barak in a statement.

Gantz did not immediately respond to the call.

Then, newly a member of the Yesh Atid party, Ram Ben-Barak attends a faction meeting at the Israeli parliament on January 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Gopstein’s Lehava group opposes intermarriage and assimilation of Jews, as well as LGBT rights, and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have also attempted to designate it as a terrorist group.

Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein has been arrested on a number of occasions and investigated for statements that he made against non-Jews, including for an article in which he called Christians living in Israel “bloodsuckers.”

He was also arrested shortly after members of his group tried to burn down an Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem in November 2014. Gopstein was not charged over the attack, for which three Lehava members were eventually convicted.

More recently, Gopstein attempted to launch a political career in Otzma Yehudit, but was barred by the Supreme Court from running in 2019, over remarks that “unequivocally” proved that he “systematically incites racism against the Arab public.”

Police stand in front of demonstrators from the Lehava Jewish extremist group at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on April 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Lehava was involved in recent violence between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem. In the early days of the recent intercommunal rioting earlier this year, Lehava organized an ultranationalist march to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, which was a hotspot of violent clashes between East Jerusalem Palestinians and police.

The legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in May called upon Israeli officials to designate the Lehava Jewish extremist group as a terrorist organization.

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