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Jillian Kestler-D'Amours

Designate far-right Israeli group a 'criminal organisation', activists plea

The extremist Lehava group demonstrates against gay pride parades every year [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 July, 2017

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Lehava is staunchly against any contact between Jews and Palestinians - and Jewish women and Palestinian men in particular, reports Jillian Kestler D'Amours.

A handful of Israeli religious and human rights groups are calling on the country's attorney general this week to treat a far-right Israeli group, Lehava, as "a criminal organisation".

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Coalition Against Racism in Israel, Tag Meir, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday.

"Law enforcement agencies have shown complete incompetence against the Lehava organisation's severe racial incitement, headed by Gopstein, for many years," said Orly Erez Likhovski, director of IRAC's legal department.

"The price is paid by Arabs who are exposed to the heavy violence, which has become a common sight in central Jerusalem."

The groups want the attorney general to indict Lehava leader Ben Tzion Gopstein and the group's activists "for incitement to racism and violence", according to a press release put out by IRAC.

I couldn't remember anything. My family; I couldn't remember them. My friends; I couldn't remember anyone
- Jamal Jalani, vitim of racist attack

The Supreme Court petition was also submitted on behalf of Jamal Jalani, a Palestinian man who was the victim of a racist lynching in 2012 in Jerusalem.

"They saw us as Arabs. They started hitting us. Now, from this point on I don’t remember what happened," Jalani, who spent two weeks in hospital, said in an online testimonial posted as part of IRAC's "Stop Lehava" campaign.

"I couldn't remember anything. My family; I couldn't remember them. My friends; I couldn't remember anyone," he said.

Lehava - "the Organisation for the Prevention of Miscegenation in the Holy Land" - purports to fight against the assimilation of Jews in Israel.

It is staunchly against any contact between Jews and Palestinians - and Jewish women and Palestinian men in particular.

Members of the group routinely patrol popular areas of West Jerusalem, among other places, and they have been accused of harassing and verbally and physically assaulting Palestinians.

In a testimonial posted online as part of the IRAC campaign, a Palestinian worker known as "A" said that he was confronted by four Lehava members at Zion Square in downtown West Jerusalem.

After one Lehava member asked if he was Arab, and A answered yes, he said he was punched in the eye. "Four people jumped on me. The people who were with him jumped me. They started to hit me all over my body," A said.

"There were lots of people around. No one acknowledged what happened. No one helped me. I helped myself alone. I ran to my friend, where he works. If I didn't have a friend working there, they would have killed me," he said.

The thuggish activity of the Lehava militia has gone on uninterrupted in Jerusalem since 2009
- Rabbi Noa Sattath, IRAC director

Shopkeepers have also accused the group of intimidation, and making threats against employing Palestinians in their businesses.

In 2014, hundreds of people joined a protest organised by Lehava outside the wedding of a Palestinian-Muslim man, and a Jewish woman who converted to Islam, in Rishon Lezion in central Israel.

Lehava is inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the head of the Kach party, which was outlawed due to its racist incitement against Palestinians, and ultimately deemed a terrorist organisation in Israel, Canada, and elsewhere.

In addition to its activities in Jerusalem, the group has branches in Petah Tikva, Beer Sheva, Raanana, and Eilat, and it operates a telephone hotline that people can call to "expose" relationships between Palestinian men and Jewish women, according to IRAC.

Lehava activists are also very active on social media, which is "fertile ground for spreading racist teachings to the wider public", IRAC said.

In their petition, the groups have also called on Israeli police to prevent Lehava rallies because they say they constitute a serious threat to Palestinians and often lead to physical violence.

"The thuggish activity of the Lehava militia has gone on uninterrupted in Jerusalem since 2009," added Rabbi Noa Sattath, IRAC's director.

"The Lehava organisation carries out physical violence, and racial incitement against Arabs in downtown Jerusalem and around the country."

Jillian Kestler D'Amours is a journalist based in Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours

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