NIF Grantees Lead the Fight Against Lehava

14 October 2016

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has launched a campaign against the extremist group Lehava. Lehava members are infamous for racist rhetoric and acts of violence. For instance, they have threatened Jerusalem restaurant owners with violence if they employ Arabs, and last month the group rioted at the Manofim Arts Festival because it featured an Armenian church choir (Tag Meir, another NIF grantee, responded by organizing an additional evening of choir performances).

Each week, Lehava members hand out “anti-assimilation” flyers to passersby in the heart of Jerusalem. Rabbi Noah Sattah, the head of the Reform Center for Religion and State, said: “On Thursday evening, there are few adults and many minors and at-risk youth who hear incitement against Arabs. Their marches and their calls against Arabs create an atmosphere of fear and terror in the city center. We hear from Arabs that they’re avoiding the Zion Square area during the weekend because they’re afraid they will be attacked.”

The Reform Center has filed over 25 complaints to the police against the group’s leader, Benzi Gopstein, and another 50 against other Lehava members. None of these have led to an indictment. IRAC has also interviewed and filmed Arab workers (video) describing their experiences with Lehava.

Earlier this month, IRAC, Shatil, and NIF grantees the Coalition Against Racism, and Tag Meir, held a rally in support of shared living in downtown Jerusalem, entitled “Freeing Jerusalem from the Flames of Hatred – For We Be Brethren”. Hundreds of people attended. Tag Meir leader Gadi Gevaryahu said: “Lehava members operate under the guise of fighting against assimilation in order to increase the hate and violence against Arabs. They do so with incessant incitement on social media and at a stand in Zion Square in Jerusalem.”

But Lehava’s extremism is prompting a response from Israelis committed to equality. It can be seen in the efforts of IRAC and in the growing impact of groups like Tag Meir. These groups – alongside many other allies – are working not only to counter Lehava, but to build a better Israel; a place where people come together across religious and ethnic lines to live in one, truly shared, society.