Meet the Hate-Filled Israeli Organization Waging War On Jewish-Arab Romance
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“Stop hiring Arabs,” “stop dating our women” and “employing Arabs equals Assimilation.” These were some of the chants 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 organization Lehava, 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 was inappropriate and must end.
When a different Jewish woman from the illegal settlement of Beitar Illit was caught 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 branches throughout the country.
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 Kahane spoke out fervently against Arab men marrying Jewish women, and in fact attempted to legislate 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 comparison between 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.