Lehava Director Released to House Arrest

Gopshtain and two other activists finally freed as police fail to present evidence for arresting them; charge 'populist' ideological arrest.

Ido Ben-Porat, Ari Yashar,

Bentzi Gopshtain
Bentzi Gopshtain
Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

After being arrested Tuesday morning with nine other members of his anti-assimilation Lehava organization on vague accusations of "incitement," Lehava director Bentzi Gopshtain was finally released on Friday to five more days of house arrest.

Gopshtain was joined by two other Lehava members being released Friday to house arrest - the other seven were freed on Thursday, as the court found there was no evidence against the organization, which notes all of its activities are legal, and that Jewish law forbids assimilation.

However, sources in the police hinted that an indictment will still be filed against the Lehava members who were arrested.

"This is an excessive, media and populist arrest driven by pressure from people on the radical left and meant to harm activities against assimilation," charged Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir who represents Gopshtain and the other Lehava members.

"As the court ruled actions against assimilation are not a crime," added Ben-Gvir. "Gopshtain was investigated mainly for statements made in the media, and in the state of Israel you are allowed to speak. We suggest the prosecutors focus now on investigating the Islamic Movement in Israel. Lets see them deal with true problems in Israel."

After having his arrest extended by a day on Thursday with the court rejecting the police request for seven days, Gopshtain said "the prosecution of the State of Israel thinks that it is forbidden to speak here. ...It is not the KGB here, this is the State of Israel."

"We will talk and no one will silence us. We will continue to fight against assimilation - that is Judaism, not racism. I urge everyone not to be silent - today it's me, tomorrow it's you," said Gopshtain.

The crackdown on Lehava comes on the apparent pretext of the arrest of three youths who are members of the organization. They are suspected of setting fire to a bilingual Jewish and Arab school in Jerusalem and scrawling racist graffiti. According to the indictment submitted against them on Monday, the three decided to do so after learning the school held a memorial honoring the terrorist leader Yasser Arafat.

Lehava has strongly denied any connection to the independent acts of the three, and the court apparently threw out police claims that such a connection existed. Many have charged the left with repressing the organization on an ideological basis.

The police crackdown didn't stop at Lehava - on Thursday the Jerusalem offices of former MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari's Otzma Yehudit party were raided by police, who made the outlandish claim that they were a front for Lehava.

"On false pretenses, and to make up for the severe criticism being levied at them, they decided that the best move was to come into our offices and interfere with the organization of an election event for our party," said Ben-Ari.