Right-wing Jewish group to march at Arab rioting hotspot

Lehava head says the group wants to stand up for Jewish pride at Damascus Gate in reaction to Ramadan rioting in Jerusalem.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Lehava organization is planning to rally Thursday at Damascus Gate in the Old City to confront recent Ramadan rioting, during which an Arab stabbed a Jewish teen on Wednesday night.

Bentzi Gopstein, head of Lehava, which works to prevent marriages between Jews and Arab, said in a statement that his followers would march with “Israeli flags and lots of Jewish pride, without fear.” This, to counteract what he called the “unprecedented weakness” of the Israeli police in the face of a series of attacks on Jews in the capital ever since the Muslim holy month began last week.

“Instead of dealing a fatal blow to terror and causing the Arabs to think a thousand times before they dare lift a hand against a Jew, the police are displaying unprecedented weakness, which only fuels the terror and causes it to grow,” the statement said.

According to the Mynet Jerusalem website, Lehava members are planning to come with weapons and attack Arabs during the protest. The right-wing group considers Arabs a threat to Jewish life both on the personal and national levels.

Gopstein himself has been in court several times due to charges of incitement to terrorism, violence and racism over anti-intermarriage and anti-Arab statements he has made over the years. The Supreme Court banned him from running for Knesset for the Otzma Yehudit party in 2019.

Channel 12 News reported Wednesday that the police would send a large force to the protest area to try and prevent hostilities between the demonstrators and the expected crowd that would coalesce around them.

The incidents have grown more serious since an unprovoked slap to the face of an ultra-Orthodox youth sitting in a light rail car, and a cup of hot coffee thrown in the face of another Orthodox passerby near the Old City, two events that were uploaded to social media and received widespread media attention.

Arab rioters have stoned buses, injuring two drivers and three passengers, while others have aimed glass bottles, rocks and firecrackers at police, with one officer receiving a head wound that needed medical treatment.

On Wednesday night, a young man was lightly injured by a knife in a brawl between Jews and Arabs near City Hall and police had to use stun grenades to break up a violent Arab demonstration at Damascus Gate.

Overall, more than 50 Arab suspects have been arrested for rioting and disorderly conduct in eastern Jerusalem in the past several days, especially near the Damascus and Herod Gates.  The clashes have mainly occurred after sunset, when Arabs who fast during the day on Ramadan can eat and then go to al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount for prayers.

One theory put forward by police for the sudden uptick in violence is that it is connected to the upcoming Palestinian elections for parliament (May 22) and president (July 31).