A representative body of the Catholic Church in Israel has urged Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and prosecutors to indict Ben-Zion Gopstein, a Jewish radical who recently advocated for the burning of churches in Israel.
The newspaper 'Haaretz' reported that the Vatican's Custody of the Holy Land demanded in a letter that criminal charges be brought against the leader of the far-right group Lehava for incitement to burning churches in Israel.
An indictment was necessary "out of consideration of the public interest and of the present danger to churches and Christian communities in the country, and the real concern of further harm to them as a result of this incitement," the Custody's representative, Attorney Farid Joubran, wrote in a letter to Weinstein and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, according to 'Haaretz'.
The Custody is an institution of the Franciscan Order in charge of tending to Christian shrines in Israel and in the West Bank. Its head is appointed with the approval of the Pope and the Holy See.
The Custody also criticized Weinstein for not presenting charges following an investigation into the group, conducted by Israeli security authorities. "This procrastination could be interpreted by someone as flaccidity by law enforcement officials, if not a seal of approval for the racist provocation from Lehava.
"This isn't a time for procrastination, delays and helplessness! This is a time for determined and uncompromising action by law enforcement authorities under your leadership. The writing is on the wall, and a cost to human life, with consequences which cannot be foretold, isn't a question of if but of when," the letter stated.
Last week, Gopstein told yeshiva students in Jerusalem in response to a question as to whether he “is in favor of burning churches in Israel: “Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?”
When the panel moderator warned him the panel was being filmed, and that if the recording should get to the police he would be arrested, Gopstein replied, “That’s the last thing that concerns me. If this is truth, I’m prepared to sit in jail 50 years for it.”
Gopstein responded to the Custody's letter, criticizing what he termed as the Vatican's intervention in Halachic discussions. "It's time to remind the Vatican that the time of the censorship when they censored Jewish books is gone. Keep your hands away from Torat Yisrael," he wrote on Facebook.