The head of an extremist group in Israel seems set to stand trial for incitement after being arrested for threatening violence against Christian and Muslim Arab men who form relationships with Jewish women.

Bentzi Gopstein, leader of Lehava, which opposes any Christian presence in Israel, was one of 14 group members arrested on 21 October, but a judge at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court later ordered Gopstein’s release, cite weak evidence. 

News this week of his indictment cheered Jewish activists and representatives of Reform Judaism, who had argued for his arrest, saying the group was a racist organization responsible for “hate crimes and incessant incitement against Arabs”. 

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin described Lehava members as “rodents” and Israel’s former head of the armed forces, Moshe Ya’alon, sought to have the group categorised as a terrorist organisation in 2015, before being replaced as defence minister by Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Gopstein, whose lawyer said his client was innocent, is an admirer of Jewish Defence League founder Meir Kahane. A rabbi who was once convicted of conspiracy to manufacture explosives, Kahane sought to rid Israel of any non-Jews, and proposed allowing them to stay only if they agreed to give up all national rights.