Bentzi Gopshtain, director of the Lehava anti-assimilation organization, has recently been the subject of a police crackdown and intensive media scrutiny - but according to him, the arrests and press attention have only strengthened his organization and vindicated its legality.
The 45-year-old father of eight and resident of Kiryat Arba adjacent to Hevron in Judea sat down with hebrew-language Hot News on Tuesday, recalling his recent arrest and the arrest of other activists in the group.
"The press was only good for the Lehava organization," said Gopshtain. "From the day that the media decided to turn my arrest into a full festival, the phones in the Lehava offices haven't stopped ringing, more and more activists are asking to arrive and volunteer."
Gopshtain and several other activists were arrested on vague suspicions of "incitement," which the court threw out in ruling that Lehava's activities in combating assimilation - which is forbidden by Jewish law - are completely legal.
"In these days we are considering suing several large media sources, including the editor of the TV program 'Uvda' (fact) after they presented my response in a distorted manner, something which is forbidden by law," said Gopshtain.
"We in the Lehava organization only act according to the law. The court released me and the activists arrested with me and ruled that activities against assimilation are not a crime. The police also were forced to admit we have no connection to incitement," Gopshtain noted.
The Lehava crackdown began 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-Arab school in Jerusalem and scrawling racist graffiti, after the school held a memorial honoring the terrorist leader Yasser Arafat.
Gopshtain stated that Israel Security Agency (ISA) agents allegedly offered one of the arson suspects money and perks to claim that Gopshtain was involved in the crimes, but "he refused to libel me with lies."
Commenting on the police crackdown as a whole, Gopshtain remarked "I didn't break and I proved to everyone that I work according to the law, and that only strengthened me."
What does Lehava do?
Gopshtain founded Lehava two years ago - already the organization has rescued over 1,000 Jewish girls from assimilation, acting before they intermarry, which in a majority of cases sees them trapped in abusive relationships with Arab husbands, he says.
The organization "does everything so they don't reach assimilation by raising awareness to the dangers of assimilation."
It particular, it tries "to deter assimilation at the places where it is common: supermarkets and stores that employ minorities, girls serving in national service together with non-Jews, beaches and recreation spots in the cities," said Gopshtain.
"In most cases family members or good friends contact us, we established a telephone line 054-8497687 which takes calls 24 hours (a day)," added the Lehava director, noting how leads about potential assimilation are also received by the group's website and Facebook page.
After receiving a request, the organization works to gather details about the Jewish girl while strictly observing the law. In order to alert the girls about the danger of their situation, Gopshtain said the group sends "activists we call 'magicians' who reach the girl at her place of study or work and convince her to leave the non-Jew."
In doing so, the activists work to convince the Jewish girls of the dangers of assimilation and intermarriage, both for the continuation of the Jewish nation and for them personally.
Gopshtain emphasized that Lehava activists work only according to the law, never exercising violence in their work to prevent assimilation.
When asked if he would considering going into politics, Gopshtain said "I'm not ruling out the political option, for now I'm prevented from speaking by legal authorities, and I can't even contact the Lehava management, but everything is on the table and when the day comes everyone will know."
"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.
Ben-Ari added "I admire Lehava. If Golda Meir was around today, she would give this organization an award," noting on her support of the struggle against assimilation.