After first arresting him on Saturday night, the court decided to release radical anti-assimilation group Lehava leader Benzi Gopstein, over suspicion that he led other members in intimidating Arab men rumored to be in a romantic relationship with Jewish women.
Lehava's right-wing rhetoric propagates the separation of Jews and Arabs, especially as it pertains to personal relationships.
Gopstein was detained for questioning along with 14 other Lehava members on charges of intimidation. Their modus operandi is believed to have been circulating a message titled "an end to assimilation" on the encrypted social network Telegram, which included a list with the personal details of Arab men romantically involved with Jewish women, and then proceeded to threaten the men to break off the relationships.
Ten of those arrested were later released without intention of bringing them to trial.
A source in the police stated that "there is evidence that anyone who dates a Jewish woman is harassed and threatened. They have a team of 'hunters,' as they call them, who as soon as they got information on an Arab man who is dating a Jewish woman, they would transfer the information on him via Telegram and threaten him. They had intel and would write each Arab to ask whether they should come see him with their faces covered or use another method."
Gopstein's arrest came following several police raids carried out at Lehava members' homes over the past few weeks in the Jerusalem, Central, South and West Bank districts. It was the Central Police Investigation Unit that eventually raided Gopstein's home, confiscating his personal computer, cellular phone and several documents.
During a hearing on Sunday over Gopstein's arrest, the police requested that he remain in custody for an additional five days, stating that he is suspected of a single count of threat. Gopstein's lawyer, Itamar Ben Gvir, claimed that acts aiming to prevent assimilation are not akin to racism.
After hearing both sides, presiding Judge Eitan Cohen stated he found that "the suspicion surrounding Gopstein is circumstantial and flimsy." He ruled that Gopstein would be released from police custody but remain under house arrest until October 26, and that he will be forbidden from contacting others involved in the case for the next 30 days.
Prior to entering Sunday's hearing, Ben Gvir stated that "it's a dark day for democracy, a disgrace that the Israel Police arrests my client for telling a Jewish woman it's not right for her to go out with Arabs. What's going on here? Have we turned into Iran? Iraq? Syria? Where's the freedom of speech in the State of Israel?
"There's no doubt that this investigation, carried out in the dead of night, only came about due to pressure from the reformists, pressure from all kinds of radical Left organizations that appealed to the High Court against my client. These organizations and the police need to understand that Israel is a democracy, and that people are allowed to speak in Israel, even Benzi Gopstein."
Gopstein himself also spoke prior to the hearing. "A bunch of cops came into my house. They wanted to search the house and started yelling. I told them I've got nothing to hide, everything's legal, that they should wait, that they could be decent about it. I told them I'd go with any officer to ask me. They decided to take me away by force. They took my children's computers, office computers.
"They accused me of telling a girl that 'if she continues to go out with Arabs, bad things will happen to her,'" continued Gopstein. "I didn't say this, though it's true, because if she continues to go out with Arabs, bad things will happen to her.
"No one has accused me of assault. I only told (a woman—ed) that her grandfather and grandmother are crying over it in heaven," added Gopstein.
"I've been receiving a little sympathy from the public, so they decided they need to diminish that sympathy and said, 'Let's arrest him,' but it won't help. Every arrest like this one only makes me and the Lehava organization stronger."
Israel Police issued a statement in response, saying that "lately, the police and security apparatus have been dealing with several incidents involving the attack and harassment of minorities in Jerusalem by members of Lehava, on the matter of assimilation.
"The police's decision to detain and/or arrest the activists is intended to nip this phenomenon and prevent its proliferation, while simultaneously preventing the group's activities from becoming more extreme and harming others."