The leader of a right-wing Jewish group has called for a ban on Christmas in Israel and the expulsion of Christians, describing followers of the religion as “blood-sucking vampires”.
Benzi Gopstein – leader of the group Lahava, or Flame in Hebrew – wrote last week on the ultra-Orthodox Kooker website that “impure” Christians must leave the region.
“Christmas has no place in the Holy Land,” Gopstein was quoted in the Israeli press as saying. “Missionary work must not be given a foothold. Let’s throw the vampires out of our land before they drink our blood again.”
In August, Gopstein called for the burning down of Christian churches in Israel.
Al Jazeera reached Gopstein on the phone in Israel to confirm his latest comments.
Gopstein said he had been misquoted and only called Christian missionary groups “vampires” – not all Christians. He declined to answer further questions and hung up.
An Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, Ahmad Tibi, denounced Gopstein’s Lahava organisation calling it a “hate group” engaged in “spreading racist violence against Muslims and Christians”.
The group has also been accused of opposing marriages between Jews and Arabs.
Asked whether Israeli authorities should take action against Gopstein for incitement, Taibi replied, “The Israeli government is complicit [and is] aiding and abetting racists and terrorists like Gopstein.”
Tibi accused the government of “institutional racism against its Arab citizens”, adding while it punishes the “Islamic movement” for incitement, authorites allow organisations such as Gopstein’s to spread religious hatred.
Al Jazeera contacted a spokesman from the ministry of justice, Moshe Cohen, for comment but he declined to answer questions over the phone. He did not respond to questions sent by email – as he requested – by publication time.
An Israeli researcher who studies extremist groups – who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisals – said Gopstein is “even despised by the Israeli right-wing establishment”.
He said Gopstein views himself as the successor to his former mentor, Orthodox Rabbi Meir Kahane, who before he was killed in New York City in 1990 advocated expelling all Palestinians from Israel.
The analyst added that Gopstein’s group is considered dangerous by Israeli security agencies.
Two sources told Al Jazeera that followers of Gopstein were arrested for the July firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank of village of Duma that killed an 18-month-old boy and his parents, Saad and Reham Dawabshe.
Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports