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Israeli police arrest 15 extremist 'anti-assimilation' Jewish activists

Le leader de l'organisation extrémiste juive Lehava, Bentzi Gopstein, fait face à un policier à Jérusalem, le 30 octobre 2014
Jack Guez (AFP/Archives)
Leader of the extremist Lehava organization among the detained for allegedly planning to threaten Arabs

Israeli police announced Sunday that 15 Jewish extremists from across Israel were arrested amid allegations the individuals were affiliated with activities involving threatening Arabs.

Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, the leader of a radical Israeli anti-assimilation organization Lehava, was among the detained.

A statement released by the Israeli foreign press spokesperson's unit said the homes of the individuals were searched and initial investigations reveal the assailants are suspected of threatening Arabs that have connections to Jewish girls.

The suspects are affiliated with the so-called Lehava movement, a right-wing extremist group which has garnered a reputation for harassing and assaulting members of the Arab community.

Lehava (in Hebrew "flame") is also the Hebrew acronym for "Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land."

Gopstein was later put under house arrest, with a judge reportedly labeling the suspicions against him "weak and circumstantial". 

According to Haaretz, his lawyer Ben-Gvir said the police had caved into “pressure from the extreme left" and characterized the arrests as "flamboyant ... without bothering to summon them for questioning.”

Lehava activists follow the teachings of the late Meir Kahane, a virulently anti-Arab rabbi whose Kach party was banned in Israel, and its members fight against intermarriage. 

Kahane was murdered in New York in 1990, but his ideology still inspires loyalty among Jewish extremists.

Lahava activists are also usually prominent protesters at LGBT rights events across Israel. 

In 2015, former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon instructed the legal department of his cabinet to consider designating Lehava a "terrorist organization" following widespread arrests of over a dozen members of Lehava on suspicion of incitement to violence.

The suspects are currently being questioned by police as the investigation is ongoing.

The arrests were intended to “cut off the phenomenon” of attacks on Arabs and “prevent radicalization by members of the group and harming others on the basis of racist nationalism,” an Israeli Police spokesperson said.

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