Faith and anti-racism groups call for police investigation into incitement to violence after Lehava head calls for Christian 'vampires' to be expelled from Israel and Christmas banned
The head of Lehava, a prominent Israeli Jewish extremist organisation, has called for the celebration of Christmas to be banned in the land where, according to the Bible, Jesus was born, lived and preached.
“Christmas has no place in the Holy Land,” Benzi Gopstein wrote in an online article posted on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish website earlier this week, Israeli media reported.
In a series of provocative comments, Mr Gopstein also attacked members of the Christian faith directly, calling for them to be expelled.
"Let us remove the vampires before they once again drink our blood,” he wrote.
The comments triggered an outcry in Israel, as faith and pluralist groups called for the country’s deputy prosecutor and the police to launch an immediate investigation into the matter.
“This statement was not made in a vacuum but in the context of many acts of violence against Christian clergy in recent years,” the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Coalition Against Racism wrote in a statement.
Lehava is a prominent Israeli far-Right organisation whose name translates as "Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land". Pro-segregation, it is known for a violent campaign against relationships between Jews and non-Jews and shot to international attention for an arson attack last year on a Jewish Arab school. Mr Gopstein, a religious settler, has also been questioned by police after making comments appearing to justify burning down Christian churches, following an arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Galilee in June.
The comments come as suspected extremists conducted another attack on a Palestinian home near Ramallah in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when two smoke grenades were hurled inside through a smashed window.
The residents, a couple and their nine-month-old baby, managed to escape unharmed. The graffiti scrawled on the walls of the house claimed “revenge” and a “hello from the detainees of Zion,” in an apparent reference to the Jewish extremists currently being interrogated by the Israeli security services on suspicion of taking part in the attack on the Palestinian Dawabshe family six months ago.
On July 31, three members of the family were killed after a petrol bomb was hurled through a window in their house, setting the entire structure on fire. Only the family’s four-year-old child, Ahmed Dawabshe, survived, though he remains in hospital with serious injuries.
On Tuesday, the lawyer representing some of the Duma murder suspects, whose identities and associations remain under a strict gag order, alleged the central suspect in the case confessed during the interrogation and took part in a reconstruction of the events of July 31. Itamar Ben Gvir accused the Israeli security services of using “torture”, sexual harassment and sleep deprivation which he says “broke” his client.
“They demanded that he admit to things he didn’t do and he snapped,” Mr Gvir said, alleging that the confession was false.
In recent days, around a thousand people took to protesting outside the house of the head of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, and other places in Jerusalem, voicing their anger at the detention and treatment of the Israeli suspects.
On Tuesday, a video was circulated on social networks accusing the Shin Bet of torturing the Israeli suspects “in the dungeons” and beating them “senseless.”
The Shin Bet responded with a rare statement, stating that “several activists who are central activists in the terror group were detained for interrogation, and they were interrogated intensively.”
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers also came out vociferously in support of the Shin Bet.
Indictments in the Duma case are expected later this week.