Lehava Director Summoned for Police Questioning

Judea-Samaria police succumbs to Vatican pressure, summons anti-assimilation leader over comments regarding burning churches.

Ornit Etzer ,

Lehava director Bentzi Gopshtain
Lehava director Bentzi Gopshtain
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Bentzi Gopshtain, the chairman of anti-assimilation group Lehava, was summoned for questioning on Tuesday by the Judea-Samaria District Police, about his comments regarding church arson.

"It is unfortunate that the police has succumbed to pressure from the Vatican," Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, of legal advocacy group Honenu, stated in response. "Police in a democratic country should ignore politics." 

The summons comes following a complaint submitted by the Catholic Church in Israel on behalf of the Vatican, which accused Gopshtain of "incitement" to violence - just after the Israel Security Agency (ISA) last Tuesday admitted that Lehava is perfectly legal.

The Vatican's call to arrest Gopshtain focuses on statements made when he took part in a panel debating Jewish law earlier this month, during which he said he supported burning churches, in an answer he claimed was based on a ruling by the famed 12th century CE Jewish scholar Rambam (Maimonides).

Explaining his comments, Gopshtain said afterwards, "the law is straightforward: Rambam's interpretation is that one must burn idolatry. There’s not a single rabbi that would deliberate that fact. I expect the government of Israel to carry that out."

In the panel the Lehava director said he was not afraid of being arrested for his comments. He later elaborated, saying, "I said that for speaking the truth, I am prepared to sit in prison. And I emphasized that I don’t burn and won’t go and burn churches."

Gopshtain responded to the Vatican letter to Weinstein, saying, "I view the involvement of the Vatican on Halakhic (Jewish legal - ed.) matters as very serious. The period of the censor when they burned Jewish books has ended."