Israeli prosecutors have charged the leader of a Jewish extremist group with incitement to violence and terrorism for inflammatory remarks about Palestinians.
The indictment against Bentzi Gopstein - the leader of the Lehava organization which strictly opposes Jewish assimilation - was filed Tuesday in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court.
According to the Justice Ministry, Gopstein in the past made public calls for committing acts of violence, published racially inciting material and voiced support for Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish extremist who massacred 29 Muslim worshippers at Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994.
The 50-year-old is also a member of the radical Otzma Yehudit party (Jewish Power), which was barred earlier this year from running in parliamentary elections over his anti-Arab racism.
Otzma Yehudit is comprised of hard-line religious nationalists who have cast themselves as successors to the outlawed Kahanist movement, which advocated the forced removal of Palestinians.
The decision to indict Gopstein came following an eight-year legal battle with the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).
Gopstein remained defiant in the face of the indictment, claiming the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, are part of "the Jewish reform movement's grip over the judicial system."
"They've decided that the war against anti-miscegenation is a racist issue," said Gopstein. "This is a dark day for the judicial system, where its officials go against the word of the Bible. There is no doubt in my mind that were the Maccabees alive today, they would've been thrown in jail for racism."
According to the indictment, Gopstein participated in at least five Lehava-led incidents of public incitement to racism and violence between 2012 and 2017.
One of the charges involves a video posted on the right-wing news outlet Channel 7, where Gopstein remarked on an incident in Jerusalem where three Jewish teenagers attacked three Arab youths, resulting in one of the victims being hurt badly and needing medical attention.
In the video, Gopstein is heard describing how "the police and the media are lynching these Jewish boys for no reason."
"Every day Jewish girls are assaulted by Arabs and have no one to turn to, the police don't care," he said. "These boys fought for the disgraced dignity of the Jewish people. If these Arabs want to get girls, they should do it in their villages. Don't come to Jerusalem, don't come to the mall", he said.
In other media appearances, Gopstein was noted for saying racist and violent statements, such as, "I'm not a pacifist ... Some Arabs deserve to be treated violently," and "I don't go to weddings where there are Palestinians."
When asked by an interviewer what would happen if he came across one at a wedding, Gopstein responded, saying, "I'll go look for the nearest hospital."
Rabbi Noa Sattath, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center, said in response: "The attempt by the Lehava leader to present his racist and violent doctrine as Judaism failed. The IRAC will keep tracking the racist agitation by his group and other such extremist leaders."
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit party and an attorney representing Gopstein called the indictment "an attempt to silence and persecute."
"What is not done to radical left and Arab leaders, is done to Gopstein," he said. "This trial is political persecution against a man who fought for the women of Israel and the good of the Jewish people."
Associated Press contributed to this report
First published: 19:44 , 11.26.19