A Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting on anti-miscegenation organization Lehava’s harassment of Jerusalemites erupted into pandemonium over the NGO’s chairman Benzi Gopstein’s attendance on Tuesday.
In addition to opposing marriages between Jews and non- Jews, Lehava, whose name is a Hebrew acronym for “Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land,” publicly shames Jews who rent homes to Arabs and opposes employing Arabs.
In 2014, three members of the organization were charged with arson and vandalism of a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem. Furthermore, Gopstein, a disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane, was arrested on suspicion of incitement and racist violence, also last year.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon weighed classifying Lehava as a terrorist organization in January.
MKs Michal Rozin (Meretz), Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union), Oren Hazan (Likud) and Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) initiated the discussion on “Lehava’s activities against Jerusalem residents.” On Monday, when Rozin and MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) found out Gopstein was planning to attend the meeting, they wrote letters to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon and Knesset Security Officer Yosef Griff, demanding that he not be allowed in, to no avail.
Hours after the committee meeting, Edelstein said that he did not have legal grounds to bar Gopstein from the Knesset, though he added, “There are some people I wouldn’t want to see in the Knesset’s halls, because they are not worthy of being here, but there’s no way to do it.”
Edelstein called on law enforcement to “declare this organization what it is worthy of being declared” – meaning illegal or a terrorist organization – “in order to solve this problem once and for all.” He also said committee heads should be more careful and not just invite guests to committees in order to create a scandal and media coverage.
In the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, Rozin read a list of violent events in which Lehava was allegedly involved, including a letter from the owner of the Roladin café in Mamilla who said the organization’s activists attacked his workers last month.
Rozin turned to Gopstein: “You are sitting here with your smile. Children are spitting on people! Is that a Jewish education?” “You’re here on borrowed time,” Hasson said to Gopstein.
“You will be in jail, and most of your days will be spent in prison, and you really do not have a right to be part of Israeli democracy. Nothing you do is legitimate. It has no justification.”
A Justice Ministry representative said that no one from the State Attorney’s Office could attend the meeting, because Gopstein was there, further incensing opposition MKs over his presence.
“We agreed to report to the committee before we knew that Gopstein was participating,” the Justice Ministry representative said.
“What did you think, that he would watch it on TV?” interim committee chairman Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) asked.
“The State Attorney’s Office confronts defendants in the court,” the representative responded.
Police representatives, unsure if they were allowed to participate in a meeting in which Gopstein was present, waited outside until receiving special permission from the interim police commissioner.
Over the course of the meeting, Smotrich removed Hasson and Meretz MKs Esawi Frej and Tamar Zandberg, as well as Rozin three times, for speaking out of turn.
Hasson took issue with Smotrich presiding over the meeting, because, “If you weren’t an MK you would be in the same place [as Gopstein].”
MK Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) said to Smotrich, “I condemned harm to innocent civilians, but I didn’t hear you condemn Lehava at the opening of the meeting. I didn’t hear a word from you against them.”
Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) said, “It is shameful and disgraceful that the Internal Affairs Committee is accepting this racist man who dedicated his life to destroying the delicate fabric of life in our country.
This man and his organization persecute gays, Arabs, and anyone who is different. Jews were persecuted throughout history, so how can we legitimize a man like this whose whole life involves burning hatred?” While Gopstein’s presence was enough to spark MKs’ ire, and they successfully blocked him from addressing the meeting until all of them except for Smotrich departed. Gopstein managed to interject, “I help Jews. You help terrorists,” and called some MKs terrorists.
The lawmakers at the meeting came up with creative insults for Gopstein.
According to MK Itzik Shmuli, Gopstein is “ISIS with a kippa.”
MK Abdullah Abu Marouf (Joint List) said the Lehava chairman is a “racist Nazi,” and Sa’adi called him “a cancer on the body of Israeli society.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) called Gopstein “the liquid that comes out of a trash can,” and “the smegma from the foreskin of the Jewish KKK.”
Gilon added, “I apologize that I am getting up and leaving, because I do not want to hear this man. I am not that big of a democrat... I have no reason to be part of this shameful performance. You are the Zionist nightmare. You are the agenda of death.”
After all the opposition MKs left, Gopstein said, “The people who are being murdered here every day are Jews. The Arabs aren’t afraid. We are protecting the girls in [central Jerusalem’s] Zion Square. I am sure that MK Gilon wouldn’t want his daughter to marry an Arab, either.”
Following the meeting, Hasson wrote a letter of complaint to Edelstein that Gopstein was allowed to address the committee after his comments comparing MKs to terrorists, and because Smotrich rejected opposition MKs’ proposal to vote on whether Lehava should be made illegal. Hasson plans to complain to the Ethics Committee, as well.
Smotrich took to twitter to accuse opposition MKs – who tweeted a victory selfie at the end of the meeting – of “succeeding in a well-planned provocation to disrupt a democratic discussion that we tried to hold at [the opposition’s] request.
Then, you’ll talk about democracy and freedom of expression.”
Shmuli responded that Gopstein is not a legitimate guest for the committee, calling him a terrorist, and pointing out that because the Lehava chairman was there, the State Attorney’s Office could not speak to the MKs present.
“You say he’s a terrorist, and that’s your right,” Smotrich wrote back. “He claims the opposite and apparently so do the security forces and the courts that you worship. Otherwise, he would be in jail.”