World

Meet the Hate-Filled Israeli Organization Waging War On Jewish-Arab Romance

Lehava's anti-miscegenation campaigns have included violence against Palestinians dating Jews.

“Stop hiring Arabs,” “stop dating our women” and “employing Arabs equals Assimilation.” These were some of thechants expressed by right-wing protesters on April 10 who gathered outside a store on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem due to the fact that it had Arab employees. The protesters were associated with the ultra-nationalist organizationLehava, whose acronym in Hebrew stands for the Organization for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land. Lehava also means flame in Hebrew.

The group, founded by Benzion Gopshtein, seeks to “save women from the People of Israel who were tempted to form a relationship with a Gentile.” Statistics from the Israeli Ministry of Interior in an Israeli parliament report on ‘assimilation’ state that by 1998, 92,612 ‘mixed’ couples existed in Israel, of whom in 55,463 cases the woman is not Jewish and in 37,149 cases the man is not Jewish. A hotline operated by the organization allows people to report on romantic relationships between Jewish women and Arab men. This past week, Gopshtein sent a letter to the Israeli army’s Chief of Staff asking him to give a military order prohibiting any personal contact between Israeli female soldiers and Palestinians, even those who are citizens of Israel, due to the security threat this poses as they may reveal confidential information.

Lehava opposes any romantic involvement between Arabs and Jews in general, even if the non-Jew in question is part of the Israeli security establishment. A two year long relationship between an Israeli Arab policeman and an Israeli woman was terminated following an intervention by Lehava members who claimed the Jewish woman sought their help in ending the relationship. The organization subsequently introduced the woman to a rabbi, known as the ‘magician’ for his persuasive abilities, who convinced her that a relationship with a non-Jew wasinappropriate and must end.

When a different Jewish woman from the illegal settlement of Beitar Illit wascaught walking alongside her boyfriend, a Palestinian busdriver, Lehava activists pushed her, spat on her and cursed her, according to allegations of the Israeli police.Gopshtain explained that the men “decided to care about their sister and help her.” Indeed, the police suspected that a conference conducted by Lehava earlier that week incited the men to attack. Gopshtain proudly claimed that there is growing awareness on the issue of intermarriage and that “we tell everyone to tell an Arab that he has nothing to look for in a Jewish woman and to tell her we are willing to help her to stop such a relationship.” Gopshtain also opposed a Israeli TV series which depicted an Arab woman dating a Jewish man, saying such a scenario is unlikely as the woman would likely get killed. Indeed, according to report from 2002, the vast majority of ‘mixed’ couples in Israel involve Arab men and Jewish women. Lehava now has branchesthroughout the country.

Kahane’s Legacy

Gopshtain is a committed follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, a New York-born ultra-nationalist leader who supported the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from Israel. Kahane once claimed that “there is no such thing as a (sic) Arab village in the State of Israel, it is a Jewish village that is temporarily inhabited by Arabs,"while referring to the latter as “dogs”. Rabbi Kahanespoke out fervently against Arab men marrying Jewish women, and in fact attempted tolegislate a law in the Israeli Parliament in 1984, prohibiting marriages between Jews and non-Jews as well as sexual relations between the two. Violating the law would have led to imprisonment of up to 50 years. The law also opposed ‘mixed’ educational institutes or gatherings and proposed separate beaches. Member of Parliament Michael Eitan drew a comparisonbetween Kahane’s proposed law and the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg laws. In a talk in the United States, Kahane explained that his opposition to mixed dating was not racist but due to his obedience to Jewish law as laid out by Maimonides. The law did not pass, yet Kahane’s legacy remains alive in the work of Gopshtain today.

In an interview with Akiva Novik of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot (18.2.2014), Gopshtain explained that “I am not a racist… we came to the Land to establish a Jewish state and not to start meeting Gentiles and be Hebrew-Speaking Thais but to protect our identity. There are even some Arabs who support us.” The organization has hundreds of volunteers throughout the country. A Lehava activist said that he along with other activists stroll beaches seeking out Palestinian men who are walking alongside Jewish women. In a subsequent Channel 10 interview, Gopshtain argued that Lehava female volunteers use fake profiles in which they state they are underage and are being harassed by Arab men. He argued that Arab men often present themselves online as Israelis with Hebrew names and that this is legally problematic, as an Israeli court sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment an Arab man from East Jerusalem who had sexual relations with Jewish woman after telling her he was Jewish. The man was therefore “guilty of rape by deception.” Facebook profiles of Palestinians attempting to court Jewish women are regularly posted on Lehava’s Facebook page and shamed as imposters.

Gopshtain often claims thathe opposes violence. However, in an interview during his daughter’s wedding he claimed that an Arab who would have attended his daughter’s wedding, would haveprobably ended up in a hospital. In the same wedding, right-wing members were seenwaving knives in the air in an ecstatic dance. He also expressed sympathy for Israeli youth who attacked Palestinian men who supposedly tried to pursue Jewish women. The organization distributes stickers posted in various places stating in Hebrew and in Arabic a thinly-disguised warning: ‘Don’t even dare to think about going out with a Jewish woman’. Various such stickers were posted in an elementary Arab-Jewish school in Beersheba several days ago while Gopshtain said that Arab children should know from an early age that they should not date Jewish girls.

In his lectures, titled 'The Silent Intifada, in various areas in the country, Gopshtain warns of the dangers of assimilation and of the motivation behind Arab mens’ seduction of Jewish women. His popular lectures may have incited people to attack Arab men dating Jewish women, according to the Israeli police.

When a ‘mixed’ cultural event for Arabs and Jews was held in Beit Ha’Am, Jerusalem in February, Lehava staged a demonstration outside opposing the event. Protesters held signs against assimilation. Lehava members also held protests outside Jewish stores that hire Arabs in the Beitar Illit settlement, claiming that Arab men who work in Israeli stores often seek out Jewish women. In Jerusalem, Lehava members distributed maps of stores where Arabs work, asking consumers to boycott them.

Gopshtain was one of the initiators of another ‘hotline’, a phone service where callers can say urgent prayers which will be read at the tomb of Baruch Goldstein, who shot to death 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre of 1994. On his Facebook page, Gopshtain posted an article about Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett who argued for integrating Arabs into the high-tech sector by writing “this is exactly the difference between me and Bennett. I support placing them [the Arabs] in the World to Come…”

Funded by the State

According to an investigation conducted by Uri Blau and Shai Greenberg of Haaretz (27.3.2011), Gopshtain is also a director of the NGO Hemla [compassion in Hebrew] whose goals include helping “girls from broken homes who are in danger of forced conversion” and providing “assistance for the hilltop people in Judea and Samaria.” Gopshtain receives 40,000 NIS annually from the organization while Hemla receives “regular funding of NIS 600,000-700,000 a year - about half its annual budget of about NIS 1.2 million - from the government, through the Social Affairs Ministry.” In February 2011, Member of Parliament Tzipi Hotovely, chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, convened a special session on the issue of assimilation in Israel. Hotovely invited members of Lehava to participate in the session.

Hatred of Sudanese and Gays

Lehava members have expressed hateful sentiments towards gays in general. At a protest held in Jerusalem, a member was recorded issuing telling gays that he is happy that they will soon become extinct and said that “you are a tiny nature reserve and soon we will stand outside and throw at you peanuts and snacks as monkeys in the zoo.” Gopshtain defendedthese statements saying that soon the right-wing will be the majority and that most of the Jewish people oppose assimilation and gay marriages. Lehava also made public a private picture uploaded on social media of a Sudanese man with an Israeli woman under the title: “As if we do not have enough Jibrils, Muhammads and Ahmeds, Now that the Sudanese are taking our women away, when will you wake up?” In the interview Gopshtain urged the Sudanese man to go back to his country.

Saving Women or Fighting Love?

Some may view the organization as saving women from unwanted relationships. Gopshtain has argued that Jewish women who marry Arab men will eventually become their maids and portrayed Arab men as seductively dangerous while warning Jewish women against falling for their charm. The Lehava website has a volunteer form that asks whether candidates have former combat experience as the organization claims it is involved in rescuing Jewish women from Arab villages after they plead for help. Gopshtain argued that he saves Jewish women from abusive relationships. However, when confronting an Israeli woman who was dating a Sudanese man, Gopshtain suggested that she move to New York and told the Sudanese man to go back to where he came from. He also denounced the son of Prime Minister Netanyahu for allegedly dating a Norwegian woman. On April 22, a Facebook campaign was waged by Israeli activists to report Lehava as a hate group yet it did not achieve its desired result.

Gopshtain’s hateful comments towards Palestinians and Sudanese, and the fact that Jewish women caught accompanying Arab men are attacked, suggest that Lehava is more interested in waging a war against mixed dating then in allowing women to chose for themselves. When asked “ did a Lehava activist never attack an Arab?”, Gopshtain responded by saying:“I cannot commit to such a thing. But as soon as an Arab goes out with a Jewish girl, that is already an attack. So after that it is already self-defense.

*Thank you to Sol Salbe for his help in this report.

 

Joshua Tartakovsky is an American-Israeli independent researcher and a graduate of Brown University and LSE.

 

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