Graffiti at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Center for Bilingual Education..
(photo credit: COURTESY TAG MEIR)
Police arrested four more members of the Jewish radical group Lehava on Sunday for incitement, resulting in a total of 17 arrests of members of the extremist organization since three were charged with setting the nation’s largest integrated school on fire last month.
According to police, eight unidentified members of the organization residing in Jerusalem, Rishon Lezion, Herzliya, Betar Illit and Netivot were initially apprehended in their homes during the early morning hours, although four were subsequently released.
“Eight suspects who belong to Lehava were arrested and detained for questioning on suspicion of offenses involving incitement to carry out acts of violence and terror for racist motives,” Police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement.
Last Tuesday the homes 10 other Lehava members, including its leader Bentzi Gopstein, were raided throughout the country, including in Jerusalem, Kiryat Arba, Petah Tikva and Netivot.
All 10 suspects were subsequently charged with incitement and remanded by a judge at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court following their arraignments. Gopstein, who has deemed the charges unconstitutional, remains under house arrest.
Lehava staunchly advocates the anti-Arab ideology of the late Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in New York City in 1990 after his radical Kach Party was outlawed in Israel for inciting racism.
Calling the arrests a “disgrace,” Gopstein’s attorney, Itamar Ben-Gvir, claimed last week that the raid is the result of a left-wing conspiracy.
“The politicians from the Left applied pressure to the police to act against Lehava, even though it is clear to them that this is a law-abiding organization openly acting against assimilation,” he said.
The crackdown follows a December 13 protest in the capital’s Zion Square demanding Lehava be outlawed.
Yitzhak Gabai and brothers Nahman and Shlomo Twito, aged 18 to 22 and from in the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit, were arrested on December 7 for allegedly setting on fire a preschool classroom in Jerusalem’s Jewish-Arab Max Rayne Hand in Hand School on November 29.
The trio is also charged with spray-painting Hebrew graffiti on the school’s interior walls stating “Kahane was right,” “You can’t coexist with a cancer,” “Enough with assimilation” and “Death to Arabs.”
In a statement, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said the three targeted the nation’s largest integrated educational institution “because Jews and Arabs learn together at the school and the goal was to put opposition to coexistence and assimilation in the public eye.”
Funded by an NGO promoting Jewish and Arab coexistence, the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School serves more than 600 Arab and Jewish pupils from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade throughout Jerusalem.
It is overseen by Jewish and Arab co-principals.
According Gabai’s and the Twito brothers’ attorneys, their confessions were coerced under duress during interrogations that included sleep deprivation and physical threats.
“We discovered that they had been seriously abused, sleep deprived, faced mental pressure, and one of the suspects said that, already on the first day, a Shin Bet investigator threatened to ‘kick his ass’ if he didn’t confess.”
Due to the alleged coercion, both attorneys have claimed that the confessions are inadmissible.
The Shin Bet described the arson at the school as “the latest in a series of violent incidents involving Kahanist activists from Lehava.”
Lehava made national headlines in August when its members attempted to disrupt the wedding of an Arab man to a Jewish woman who had converted to Islam.