- Israeli police detained 15 members of the Israeli extreme-right group Lehava for threatening Palestinian men with Israeli citizenships dating Jewish women
- Lehava is known for opposing inter-marriage and holding demonstrations with racist slogans such as "Death to Arabs"
- In 2011, the group issued certificates to praise businesses which illegally refrained from employing Arabs
- In 2015, Israel's internal security agency said it lacks conclusive evidence to outlaw the group
Israeli police detained 15 suspected Jewish extremists following an undercover investigation into a group accused of tracking down and threatening Palestinian men with Israeli citizenships dating Jewish women, authorities said Sunday.
Among those arrested was Benzi Gopstein, a prominent leader of the Israeli extreme-right group Lehava.
Arrests and searches for evidence were carried out simultaneously at addresses in Jerusalem, northern and southern Israel and in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, police said.
Five of the suspects were later taken for remand hearings, police said.
Lehava opposes inter-marriage. In Aug. 2014, its activists staged a rally where racist slogans such as "Death to Arabs!" were shouted at the wedding of a Muslim man and Jewish woman near Tel Aviv.
Speaking to reporters at his hearing at Jerusalem magistrates' court, Gopstein said he was arrested for telling a Jewish woman that she should not date an Arab man, insisting he did no wrong.
In April, six Israelis, including two soldiers, were arrested for alleged racist attacks against Arabs with knives and other weapons. They were charged with 'terrorist' offenses.
Police said they were influenced by a Lehava video.
Critics of Lehava argue that the group seeks to sow hatred between Jews and Arabs and are regularly fanning the flames of violence in the already troubled and bloodied region.
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Since its establishment, Lehava launched anti-Arab campaigns everywhere from shops and beaches to the synagogues and schools, bidding the public not only to report any Jewish-Arab romantic liaisons but also to not rent Arabs apartments or employ Arabs in workplaces.
In 2011, the group even issued 'kashrut' certificates to praise businesses which illegally refrained from employing Arabs.
In 2014, the Times of Israel reported that three Lehava members were arrested and sentenced to prison terms for setting fire to a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem and for spray painting racist incitement messages on the school walls echoing the views of Lehava - "There is no coexistence with cancer," "Death to the Arabs," and "Kahane was right".
Also in 2014, at the marriage party of Morel Malka (a Jewish woman who converted to Islam) and Mahmoud Mansour (a Muslim), Lehava organized loud protests outside the wedding venue, where crowds of activists screamed "Mohammed is dead".
In the weeks prior, Lehava published a copy of the wedding invitation on their Facebook page and invited activists to come to protest the union with "banners and bullhorns". A court issued a restraining order against the group, bidding them to remain 200 meters away from the venue, The Times of Israel reported.
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A crowd of Israeli supporters also gathered opposite the Lehava protestors, holding a counter-demonstration as a show of support for the couple. Israel's president Reuven Rivlin himself congratulated the couple, whilst denouncing Lehava's incitement as akin to "rodents gnawing under the shared democratic and Jewish foundation of Israel."
At the wedding of his own daughter in 2014, Mr. Gopstein said were an Arab waiter to be found at the venue, the waiter "would likely be looking for the closest hospital," according to the New York Times.
Gopstein was also questioned by police in 2015 after he condoned torching churches in Israel, in accordance with a medieval Jewish commandment to destroy places of idol-worship.
The Israeli government has also weighed banning Lehava. In January 2015, Israel's defense minister Moshe Yaalon said he is considering outlawing Lehava.
"I did this because we cannot as a country allow racist phenomena to endanger in a substantial way the fabric of life here. I did it because we must fight in every way attempts to discriminate among people because of their race, color, sex or sexual preference," Yaalon said.
But Yaalon's words did not result in a ban. In Aug. 2015, Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, said it lacks the conclusive evidence to outlaw the group.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.