The leader of Jewish extremist group Lehava has likened Christians to "bloodsucking vampires" and called for their expulsion from Israel, in a tirade published a few days before Christmas.
In a more than 1,000-word rant published on ultra-Orthodox website Kooker, Benzi Gopstein, head of the far-right Lehava movement — which objects to any mixing of Jews and non-Jews — claims that the Christian Church is the "centuries-old enemy" of Israel and that "the Vatican rubbed their hands in glee" at the "chimneys of Auschwitz."
"In a few days it will be 'Christmas' of the accursed religion. Unfortunately, across the country, you can feel it in the air," wrote Gopstein. "Stalls with Christian literature have sprung up up all over the country, Christmas trees can be seen in shops, and billboard ads funded by tax payers invite the public to learn about Christianity... in the heart of Jerusalem."
In the piece titled Eradicate the Vampires, Gopstein went on to warn that missionaries spent "billions of dollars to get a foothold in the Holy Land," and have "infested entire communities."
"I call on [Jews] to raise their voices and fight the perverse phenomenon [of Christianity]," he concluded. "Christmas has no place in the Holy Land... Let us remove the vampires from our country before they drink our blood again. We have given them enough already."
The Lehava organization follows the teaching of the deceased extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, and is best known for its hostility towards Arabs. Two members of the group were indicted for torching a mixed Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem and spray painting "Kahane was right" on the wall back in 2014. The organization has also picketed interfaith weddings in Israel, organized patrols in Jerusalem to look for mixed couples, and has distributed leaflets calling for people to "name and shame" Jewish landlords renting to Arabs.
This is not the first time, however, that Lehava has also turned its attentions to Israel's Christians; a minority group compromising just 2 percent of the country's population.
In August, just weeks after an firebomb attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes in northern Israel, Gopstein appeared to justify arson attacks on Christian holy sites, citing the teachings of 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides on destroying idol-worship. "Idolatry needs to be destroyed," he said at panel discussion for yeshiva students, adding he was "prepared to sit in jail for 50 years for [saying] it."
In another Christmas-related incident earlier this month, Gopstein led Lehava members, many of them teenagers, in a demonstration outside a tree decorating event for children in Jerusalem. The group yelled slogans such as: "You murdered us in exile" and "The Arabs won't defeat us with knives and the Christians won't defeat us with presents."
Responding to Gopstein's rant in Kooker, the Israel Religious Action Center — a movement for progressive Judaism — called for an police investigation into "Mr Gopstein and his goons" for making comments that incited violent actions against a religious group and attempting to prevent Christmas celebrations. Other leftwing NGOs including Coalition Against Racism in Israel also called for the extremist leader to be investigated.
Gopstein responded by attempting to backtrack, claiming he had been misrepresented. He was not calling all Christians vampires, he said, just the "missionaries who work to remove Jews from their religion."
According to peace NGO Rabbis For Human Rights there there have been at least 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques, and monasteries in Israel and the West Bank since 2009.
Earlier this year Israel's Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, initiated an attempt to have Lehava categorized as a terrorist organization but Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, said it found insufficient evidence to have it outlawed. A 2012 police investigation into Gopstein for inflammatory Facebook posts is also going to be dropped according Israeli Channel 10.
"Benzi Gopstein stops at nothing to incite against anyone who is not him — Arab Muslims, Christians, and others, using harsh language and calling for violence," Orly Erez-Lakhovsky, director of the IRAC's legal department said in an online statement. "Unfortunately... in the face of this incitement... law enforcement is thunderously silent."
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