September 10, 1969
|Known for||Founding Lehava|
|Political party||Otzma Yehudit|
Ben-Zion "Bentzi" Gophstein (Hebrew: בן־ציון "בנצי" גופשטיין, born 10 September 1969) is a political activist affiliated with the radical right in Israel, a student of Meir Kahane, and founder and director of Lehava, an Israeli Jewish anti-assimilation organization. He was a member of the Council of Kiryat Arba, 2010-2013. In November 2019, he was indicted on charges of incitement to terrorism, violence and racism.
Gopstein is a student of Meir Kahane and an adherent of Kahanism, the ideology named for and developed by him and promoted by his banned Kach party in Israel. Kach incited to racism and advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and Gopstein praised the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre committed by fellow Kach member Baruch Goldstein.[dead link] He has participated in memorials to Kahane.
Shortly after Kahane's 1990 assassination, Gopstein was arrested, and then released, in a case involving the unsolved murder of an Arab couple. In 1994, Gopstein was assigned to administrative detention as a result of his involvement with Kahane's then-banned organization.
In 2015, in a tape-recorded talk, Gopstein justified burning down churches based on the religious teachings against idolatry by 12th-century Jewish philosopher and scholar Maimonides. Later that year, he advocated expelling Christians from Israel and banning celebration of Christmas there.
Gopstein has served as public relations director of Hemla, a publicly funded non-profit. Hemla for many years focused on "saving the daughters of Israel" from mixed marriages with Arab men, and received up to $175,000 each year from the state between 2005 and 2013. Part of the public funding went to Gopstein's salary. While some considered Hemla to be focused on keeping Jewish women from dating Arab men, Gopstein described the charter of the Hemla in an interview with Haaretz:
A few years ago, it was more the issue of girls with Arabs, but today, that's less important - it's more a concern for Haredi girls with all kinds of problems. For Haredi girls, [the Hemla hostel] is the only place there is. They don't get along with the family, there's incest, things like that ... not necessarily Arabs, and not assimilation. This is the place for Haredi girls who can't remain at home."
Lehava, Hebrew for "flame" and an acronym for Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land, is an anti-assimilation organization, dedicated to preventing personal, romantic, or business relationships between Jews and non-Jews, particularly Arabs. Lehava's activities are documented in a recent report titled "Racism and Gender in Israel" by the Israel Religious Action Center and other groups active against racism. In 2011, Lehava plastered posters in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem deploring a supermarket chain that employed Palestinians. The slogan of the fliers was, "Do you want your grandson to be called Ahmad Ben Sarah?" The group began distributing "kosher certificates" to businesses that did not employ Arabs to encourage discrimination against non-Jews. In 2012, Lehava distributed fliers warning Palestinian men not to date Jewish women.
In addition to opposing interfaith and interethnic marriages, and promoting discrimination against Palestinians and Arabs in employment, Lehava also has encouraged Israelis to report to the organization the names of Jews who rent to Palestinians so that they can be named and publicly shamed.
A group of anti-racist organizations petitioned Israel's Supreme Court against the state attorney, Lehava, and Gopstein. According to the petition, Gopstein had, in addition to promoting discrimination against Palestinians and other Arabs, praised a group of Jewish youths who attacked Palestinians in Jerusalem, leaving one victim unconscious and hospitalized. The court case is pending.
In 2014, three members of Lehava were arrested, and indicted in 2014 for committing arson and spray-painting anti-Arab graffiti at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish Arab Education in Israel (Yad B'Yad) Bilingual School in Jerusalem. Gopstein, along with several other group members, was arrested shortly thereafter for incitement. In January 2015, Channel 2 reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon may be preparing to categorize Lehava as a terrorist organization. Ya'alon was reported to have ordered the Shin Bet and the Defense Ministry to assemble evidence required for the classification. The arson incident received international attention. Gopstein issued a statement harshly critical of Ya'alon:
I suggest that [Ya'alon] aim to outlaw the Islamist Movement and then preoccupy itself with an anti-assimilation group.... Instead of taking care of an enemy of Israel, the defense minister is trying to win over votes from the Left [by] taking on Lehava. The group acts to save the daughters of Israel [Jewish women] and deserves the Israel Prize.
A journalist participated in Lehava undercover and reported on Gopstein's leadership. Liat Bar-Stav described a meeting that Gopstein led for his followers, in which he said to them:
Some 45 years ago, Rabbi Kahane said, shouted and cried out that the enemies within us are a cancer and that if we don't take this cancer and get rid of it, we won't continue to exist. Unfortunately, this dangerous cancer of coexistence has metastasized everywhere. There are various ministers in the government who are encouraging coexistence, who are giving them jobs, allowing them into the hi-tech world, allowing them to become doctors.
As the crowd responded with booing and cheering, Gopstein continued:
The cancer we spoke about in the beginning has offshoots in the Knesset of Israel too. Thirty years ago, Rabbi Kahane stood up in the Knesset and took out a hangman's noose for traitors, a noose for the Arab MK who was there. It's not a threat, it's a promise, the rabbi said when attacked for doing so. So this is what I want to wish [former MK Azmi] Bishara on behalf of all of you. -(Waving a noose)- Your day will come, Azmi! We are waiting for the Israeli government to come and hang you from the tallest tree! Azmi, only thanks to Rabbi Kahane will we make sure you are hanged one day."
Before his Facebook account was permanently disabled, it had doctored images of Arab Israeli Knesset members who appear to be hung by the neck.
Advocacy outside Israel
Gopstein wrote a letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg protesting both Zuckerberg's marriage to a non-Jewish woman, as well as the Palestinian use of Facebook. He complained, "In Israel, too, assimilation is hitting us quite a bit because of your Facebook, where every Mohammed is 'CitySlicker' and every Yusuf calls himself 'Prince Charming'".
In 2018, Gopstein started a fund raiser to raise money to sue Facebook for censorship.
Attitude towards Christians
Gopstein has called for the incineration of Christian churches. The discussion centered on whether Maimonides's ruling to eliminate idol worship was valid also for modern times. On the Haredi website Kooker, Gopstein published an article in December 2015 calling for the suppression of Christmas celebrations in Israel and the expulsion of Christians, whom he likened to vampires. Calling the Christian Church "the deadly enemy of the Jewish people for centuries", he claimed, "Their missionaries prowl for prey in Jerusalem." In response, Israeli groups have asked he be investigated for incitement.
In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sent a letter to the Israeli government encouraging action to be taken to curb Gopstein. In the letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, the ADL said that Gopstein has referred to Christians as "bloodsucking vampires", condoned burning Christian churches, and that his Facebook page includes anti-LGBT posts, as well as ones the ADL calls "extremely abusive, racist, inflammatory, and violent".
The Reform Center for Religion and Policy petitioned Mandelblit again in 2018. During a hearing however, the petition was withdrawn by suggestion of multiple Supreme Court justices.
In the run-up to the September 2019 Knesset election, Gopstein boycotted a hearing of the High Court of Justice on whether Otzma Yehudit should be allowed on the ballot. He claimed that "the judges already made their decision" and would overturn the Law of Return if given the chance.
Nine years after an initial complaint had been laid by a movement in Reform Judaism regarding his behavior, in late November 2019 Gopstein was indicted for incitement to violence, racism and support for terrorism on the basis of a series of statements he made over a five year period from 2012 to 2017, such as praising the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, defending the actions of youths involved in the Zion Square assault, calling Palestinians a cancer, and stating that there was no shortage of Arabs who deserved to be beaten up. The indictment was approved by the Israeli Attorney General. Gopstein responded by declaring he would persist in campaigning against Jewish-Arab coexistence and asserted that the indictment was tantamount to state-sponsored persecution.
Gopstein is married to Anat Gopstein and has eight children.
- Tal Ariel-Amir (20 May 2016). "המרכז שנלחם בארגון להב"ה: "כסות יהודית שנועדה להסתיר גזענות"" [Center fighting organization Lehava: 'Using Judaism as a cloak to conceal racism']. Maariv (in Hebrew).
- Jeremy Sharon (26 November 2019). "Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein indicted for incitement to terror, racism". Jerusalem Post.
- In the Spotlight: Kach and Kahane Chai Archived 22 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine Center for Defense Information October 1, 2002[dead link]
- Schwartz, Yardena (3 March 2018) Israel's Alt-Right is Now Mainstream-Are Lawmakers Doing Enough to Stop It?", Newsweek. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
- Uri Blau; Shai Greenberg (27 May 2011). "A strange kind of mercy". Haaretz.
- Alona Ferber (14 June 2016). "How Israel Must Fight Violent Jewish Extremists". Haaretz. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
- Ben Norton (25 December 2015). ""Christmas has no place in the Holy Land": Far-right Israeli leader wants to expel Christians and ban the holiday". Salon. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
- Vered Lee (25 April 2013). "Love in the Time of Racism: The New, Dangerous Low in the Campaign to Stop Interracial Relationships". Haaretz.
- Yair Altman (12 December 2010). "Public invited to inform on those renting to Arabs". Ynetnews.
- Isabel Kershner (17 December 2014). "Israel Cracks Down on Lehava, a Group Tied to Anti-Arab Acts". The New York Times. p. A3.
- Yaakov Lappin (4 January 2015). "Ya'alon asks legal experts if he can ban Lehava Jewish extremist organization". The Jerusalem Post.
- Justin Jalil (4 January 2015). "Anti-assimilation group could be classified as terrorist". The Times of Israel.
- Liat Bar-Stav (1 March 2015). "Inside radical right-wing group Lehava". Ynetnews.
- Sharon Pulwer (22 December 2015). "Jewish Extremists' Leader: Christians Are 'Blood Sucking Vampires' Who Should Be Expelled From Israel". Haaretz.
- Elad Benari (25 May 2012). "Head of Anti-Assimilation Group Appeals to Zuckerberg; Benzi Gopstein, head of the Lehava Organization, sends a letter to Mark Zuckerberg over his marriage to a non-Jew". Arutz Sheva.
- "גם לי ולך מותר לדבר חופשי - הרשת שייכת גם לימניים". Giveback. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
- Chaim Levinson, 'Israeli Extremist Group Leader Calls for Torching of Churches', Haaretz 6 August 2015.
- Annie Robbins (22 December 2015). "Merry Christmas and get out of Israel, you blood-drinking Christian vampires". Mondoweiss.
- In First, ADL Urges Clampdown on Extremist Israeli Group Lehava Haaretz, May 26, 2015
- "'Supreme Court rejected Reform movement's argument out of hand'". Israel National News. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
- "High Court hears petitions against Otzma Yehudit, Arab parties". Times of Israel. 22 August 2019. Retrieved 22 August 2019.
- Or Kashti, New Incitement claim filed against Israeli Far-right activist Benzi Gopstein Haaretz 5 July 2019
- Tamar Pileggi, Jewish extremist hit with terror charges after years of anti-Arab rhetoric, The Times of Israel 26 November 2019