Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Lehava Chairman Benzi Gopstein arrives at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, June 8, 2020.

Ben-Zion “Bentzi” Gopstein, 55, founder and chairman of the Lehava organization which is dedicated to preventing intermarriages of Jews and Arabs, was acquitted on Sunday by Magistrate’s Court Judge Sigal Albo of three counts of incitement to violence and terrorism but was convicted of incitement to racism, which is punishable by up to five years in jail.

Gopstein was convicted based on his 2014 speech at a memorial service for Rabbi Meir Kahane Z’l, in which, as cited by the judge’s ruling, “The accused begins with the words, ‘The enemies within us are cancer,’ and says that this cancer has metastasized everywhere. Continuing, the defendant says, ‘This cancer, this dangerous cancer of coexistence. And unfortunately, in the government, there are all kinds of ministers with and without yarmulkes who encourage coexistence, who give them jobs, put them in high-tech, let them become doctors.’ In fact, in his words, the defendant calls not to employ Arabs in senior positions in Israel, due to their national origin.”


The judge wrote: “The defense claimed that the accused referred in his words only to the enemies of Israel and not to all Arabs because of their national origin, and therefore the accused cannot be charged with the crime of inciting racism.”

“It is difficult to accept this claim, given the totality of the accused’s statements regarding the ‘enemies of Israel,’” she continued. “From the defendant’s words, it appears that almost all Israeli Arabs are considered enemies in his eyes, since in his opinion, they oppose the existence of the state as a Jewish state, and therefore, according to his thinking, there is no room to employing Arabs in senior positions, or at all.”

The judge added, “As to the defendant’s world view in this context, we can learn from his testimony: ‘I have no problem with Arabs working anywhere as long as they don’t work with Jews, that is that Jews should not be with Arabs. I have no problem with everyone working in a place being Arab, but don’t put an Arab standing next to a Jewish cashier. If the cashier will also be an Arab, that’s fine.’ Hence the accused does not deny that he calls for ethnic separation between nationalities in workplaces.”


I must say that as an American Jew working for an American corporation, I find the very idea of a court punishing a free person’s opinion, no matter how unpleasant, repugnant. But Israel is a country without the equivalent of a First Amendment to the Constitution, heck, it don’t have no constitution at all – and under the current state of affairs, should a right-wing government legislate a substantial reform giving the citizens unlimited freedom of speech save for crying “fire” in a crowded theater – I have no doubt the High Court would strike it down and the Kaplan Revolutionary Guards would stop traffic on Ayalon Highway to protest Bibi’s plot to take away our limits on freedom.

Israel is a great country, with wonderful people, and delicious food, but no idea whatsoever of what constitutes a democracy.

I suspect Gopstein himself doesn’t truly understand the benefits of freedom of speech, since what he said after his trial was not, “Who gave the judge the right to shut me up, I am a free citizen of a democratic state,” but instead he said something about the fact that many MKs these days are saying much worse things.

He did come close when he said, “I prefer not to be nice, but I don’t think that in a democratic country, whoever is not nice should be convicted.”

Remember Robert Fulghum’s bestseller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?” Well, you should know that the official name for the state-run preschool in Israel is “Compulsory Kindergarten.”

Everything Israelis really need to know they learned in compulsory kindergarten.

At ease.


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