Lehava head Bentzi Gopshtain being arrested (Image credit: Bentzi Gopshtain)
Sunday 5 a.m., strong knocks on the front door.
My son calls to me: “It looks like there was a terror attack.” We go downstairs in a panic and hear shouts: “Police, open the door or we’ll break it in.” I open the door; ten police officers burst into my home and seize my phone so that I won’t call my lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir.
A search warrant is flashed before my face, and “for the offense of harassing and threatening a young woman” they seize all of the computers and phones in the house. Afterwards they come to my office and there too computers, cell phones, cameras, and even Lehava candies that are handed out to girls with the note: “Don’t go out with Mahmoud, at the beginning he’s sweet, afterwards it’s slavery” (rhymes in Hebrew –Ed.) are seized.
The police officers, accompanied by members of the Shabak (Israeli Security Agency –Ed.), even manage to discover and seize a page that contains a list of Jewish girls who are going out with Arabs. Afterwards that page constitutes important and confidential evidence that is dramatically presented to the judges.
During the drive to Jerusalem, the police spokesperson issues a press release about 15 suspects, who were arrested following a covert investigation by the police and Shabak regarding assaults on Arabs – an accusation that did not appear against a single one of those arrested, and regarding – pay attention: “Organized activity to prevent assimilation… and attempts by members of the organization to expand its activities were even identified.” Heaven help us.
We reach the offices of the police Central Unit in Jerusalem, those who are supposed to deal with the severe crime of Jerusalem, and there the interrogator asks me with a stern face when was the last time that I was at Malcha Mall in Jerusalem. When I tell him that I don’t remember and that I have better places to spend my time, he pulls out the name of a young woman and accuses me of going to this young woman and telling her: “It isn’t good that you’re going out with Arabs,” “Your grandfather and grandmother in Heaven are very sad about this." And not only that, but that at the end of the conversation I even gave her a booklet with “Hatikun Haklali” (a set of Psalms said for atonement –Ed.) written on it.
I answer the officer that unfortunately it wasn’t me, but I’m prepared to confess these things because it’s exactly what I would have said to a young woman if I knew that she was going out with an Arab, and there is no crime in doing so. The interrogation has ended, the officer informs my lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir that it appears they will be releasing me.
But apparently that didn’t suit the plans of the police commanders, who worry about headlines in the newspaper Haaretz. An officer comes to me and informs: “We have decided to arrest you and bring you before a judge for an extension of arrest.” He looks at the interrogation that had taken place and says to the interrogator: “Interrogate him on other things so there will be content.”
They put me into another interrogation, this time on the charge: “conspiring to commit a crime.” The document that was seized in my office containing a list of Jewish women who are going out with Arabs is presented to me, and I am flooded with questions – who wrote it, why, for whom, how did this reach the office?
I gave the simple answer that unfortunately I have thousands of names of girls who are going out with Arabs, and we try to convince them; sometimes we succeed, and sometimes we continue to try. When the parents of these girls turn to the police, they get the answer: “We’re sorry, there’s nothing we can do,” and therefore they turn to us and we are a sympathetic ear for them, and we try to help them bring their daughter back home.
The interrogator doesn’t give up, and presents me with a telegram message from a group called “Saying No to Assimilation” that legally seeks to explain to an Arab why he can’t go out with a Jewish woman. I asked: “So, how is this connected to me?” And then they told me that the person who wrote it is a Lehava activist, and it cannot be that an activist does something and I don’t know about it.
The Real Culprit: The High Court
In the evening I am brought in handcuffs and leg cuffs before a judge. There I am presented as the head of a crime organization that fights assimilation, and confidential materials are presented to the judge including the same document that was seized in my office. The police representative, a religious Jew from one of the settlements, winds around in his answers to attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, and unsuccessfully tries to explain what is problematic about saying to a young woman that it isn’t good that she go out with an Arab.
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir exposes the true reason for the arrest: The High Court of Justice of the Reform Movement – those who encourage mixed marriages – in a call to the attorney general to put me on trial. After all, three years ago there also were arrests of Lehava activists which were highly mentioned in the press, and then too not even a molehill came out of their mountain – no indictment was submitted.
The state asked for a reprieve from the High Court of Justice until next week; now they can say, “Look, we are still investigating the Lehava organization and trying to do everything in order to stop its activity.”
The judge goes out on recess, at the end of which he states that there is only a weak suspicion against me that does not justify arrest, and he releases me. But again the police, on orders from above, decide to appeal to the district court.
The following day, after an entire day of staring at the basements of the district court in Jerusalem in a place that doesn’t respect a single human rights law, I am again brought before a judge who orders to release me and repeats the statement that there is only a weak suspicion.
Are You a "Racist" Too?
Will I stop working for the sake of the girls of Israel following the arrest? Certainly not, the obstacles and arrests will only strengthen us to continue our activity.
Just during the day that I was under arrest we received over 20 requests to help girls. The Reform Movement and the New Israel Fund have again been defeated in their war against the Lehava organization.
War on assimilation isn’t racism, it’s Judaism! And I expect to hear a clear voice condemning the attempt to fight the Lehava organization, for they are not only fighting against me but against Judaism, against the clear statement: “Blessed is the One who did not make me a non-Jew" (from the morning prayers -Ed.).
And if you are silent today and do not want to identify with the extremists, then next week on Motzei Shabbat after you declare: “The One who separates holy and mundane, light and darkness, Israel and the nations,” expect strong knocks at the door and an arrest for the offense of “racism.”
Bentzi Gopshtain is the head of the Lehava anti-assimilation organization, whose Hebrew website can be found here.