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Leaders of anti-Arab group Lehava arrested in Israel

Lehava leader Benzi Gopstein was arrested after one of the group's members passed 'incriminating evidence' to Israeli police
Benzi Gopstein holds a noose at a Lehava meeting shared on social media (Twitter/@ronnie_barkan)

Ten members of anti-Arab group Lehava were arrested in Israel early on Tuesday, according to local reports, including the group’s leader Benzi Gopstein, who has also headed a government-funded non-profit organisation.

According to the reports, the homes of ten Lehava members were raided with police now due to ask a court if they can hold the far-right activists in remand, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Lehava is an Israeli group that warns of the “dangers of coexistence with Arabs” and opposes marriage between Jewish women and non-Jewish men. They vocally protested the marriage of a Jewish woman and Muslim man from Jaffa earlier this year, which prompted a counter-rally of people who support assimilation between the two communities.

Group leader Gopstein was arrested by police on Tuesday after one of three Lehava members charged with the recent arson of a Jerusalem Jewish-Palestinian coeducational school had offered police “incriminating evidence” on him in order to reduce a potential prison sentence, his lawyer told Haaretz.

Lehava lawyer Itamar Ben Givr said the arrests had come after “pressure from leftist politicians.”

“Police are taking action against Lehava even though it is clear to them it’s a legal organisation that overtly works against assimilation,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

When the three Lehava members were charged with attacking the Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem – where graffiti including: “There’s no coexistence with cancer” was scrawled on the walls – Gopstein defended his group and their tactics.

“The Lehava organisation works day and night to save Israeli women from assimilation,” he told Israel National News. “Lehava only works by legal means.”

“We will continue to act legally to assist the women of Israel.”

It was revealed in 2011 that Lehava is not a registered non-profit organisation (NPO) but “its leading and prominent activists are connected to an NPO called Hemla (Mercy), which receives funding from the state.”

Among Hemla’s stated objectives is an aim to “help girls from broken homes who are in danger of forced conversion” as well as providing “assistance to the hilltop people in Judea and Samaria,” a reference to those living in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Since 2005 the organisation has received between 600,000 NIS ($152,950) and 700,000 ($178,470) – around half its yearly budget – from Israel’s Social Affairs Ministry.

In addition to being the chairman of Lehava, Gopstein is the public relations director of Hemla and receives a salary of 40,000 NIS ($10,200) per year from the organisation.

The Social Affairs Ministry said it funds Hemla to rehabilitate “girls at risk” but did not answer questions about providing financial aid to organisations that have sought to stop relationships between Jewish women and Palestinian men.

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