We have been discussing the criminalization of Christmas celebrations by the Sultan of Brunei. Now, as if to show that Muslim extremists have no monopoly on crazy, Benzi Gopshtain (also reported as “Gopstein”), who heads the far-right Lehava organisation, has called for the same prohibition in Israel. Indeed, the statement of Gopstein and those of the Muslim clerics in Brunei seems almost indistinguishable.
The clerics insisted that “Some may think that [celebrating Christmas] is a frivolous matter and should not be brought up as an issue. But as Muslims and as a Zikir Nation, we must keep it (following other religions’ celebrations) away as it could affect our Islamic faith.”
They will get no argument from Gopshtain who said that Christians are “vampires” and “Christmas has no place in the Holy Land.” Gopshtain actually is more extreme than his Muslim counterparts who were willing to allow Christians to celebrate “in their communities.” (Though there is still a major difference from a wing nut like Gopshtain and the head of a country like the Sultan). Gopshtain insisted that such celebrations represent the “fall of the line of defence of the Jewish people for hundreds of years against our enemies, the Catholic Church.” He added “[t]he mission of those vampires and bloodsuckers remains. If Jews cannot be killed, they can be converted. We must remove the vampires before they drink our blood once again.”
Just in case you thought that this was a joke, Gopshtain has been repeatedly investigated for hate speech and there is a new call for such an investigation. Ironically, while Gopshtain is a hateful and grotesque person, I strongly disagree that such comments should be treated as criminal matters. In the free speech community, we are often faced with defending people with whom we disagree or people we despise. Yet, this is political and religious speech. Raw and hateful to be sure but it is still part of the debate over religious freedom. The solution to people like Gopshtain is more not less speech. It is not hard to expose his prejudice and intolerance. It is better for people like Gopstein to identify themselves and subject themselves to public ridicule than to force them underground.
The real debate should be over the public funding of extremist organizations by Israel. Gopshtain has been the public relations director of Hemla, which dedicates itself to “saving the daughters of Israel” from mixed marriages with Palestinian men. The state of Israel has supported the organization annually, public monies that have also supported Gopshtain.