Bentzi Gopstein, the Jewish leader of extremist anti-assimilation group Lehava in Israel, has called for a ban on Christmas celebrations in the country and the banishment of Christians, who he referred to as "blood-sucking vampires", from the land. The comments that were published in Hebrew in an op-ed on the ultra-Orthodox Kooker website have triggered an outcry, with pluralist groups calling prosecutors and police to launch an immediate investigation into the matter.
Gopstein, who has been arrested before in a murder case, alleged Christians have repeatedly attempted to eliminate Jews and since their methods never worked, they decided to invest billions of dollars over the years in order to gain a foothold in the Holy Land and "disseminate spiritual poison" through missionary work.
"I call on everyone to raise a cry and fight this corrupt phenomenon in the best tradition of Judaism, before we all, including those who observe the commandments among us, become a community of sycophants. Christmas has no place in the Holy Land. Let us remove the vampires before they once again drink our blood," he says in the article.
Faith groups like the Israel Religious Action Center, the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Coalition Against Racism have condemned his comments and asked the authorities to take serious action against Gopstein. "Bentzi Gopstein is capable of doing anything in order to incite against anyone not like him — Arab Muslims, Christians and others, while using blunt language and calling to violence," Orly Erez-Likhovski said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of Israel Religious Action Center.
Lehava, which claims to fight for Jewish identity, strictly opposes Jewish assimilation, objecting to any personal or business relationships between Jews and non-Jews. It has previously made numerous attempts to prevent marriage between Jews and Arabs.
Around 2% or 160,000 of the population in Israel is Christian, and a considerable number of Israel's foreign tourists are adherents to the faith as well. Israel has no official religion but the definition of the state as "Jewish and democratic" pushes for a strong connection with Judaism.