Apr 19, 2024 - World

U.S. targets ultranationalist Israeli minister confidant in new round of sanctions

Israeli leader of the extreme right-wing movement Lehava, Benzi Gopstein (L) listens to journalists' questions next to his then-lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir on August 11, 2015

Benzi Gopstein (L) and Itamar Ben Gvir on Aug. 11, 2015 in Jerusalem. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Friday against Ben-Zion (Benzi) Gopstein — an extremist settler who is the founder and the leader of "Lehava," an organization that has engaged in destabilizing violence affecting the occupied West Bank, the State Department said in a statement.

Why it matters: This third round of sanctions imposed by the U.S. targets an extremist settler who is part of the inner circle of an Israeli cabinet member and whose organization was involved in violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.

  • Gopstein is a close confidant of Israel's ultranationalist minister of national security Itamar Ben Gvir and a key figure in the radical right in Israel.
  • "Under Gopstein's leadership, Lehava and its members have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas," the State Department said.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated two entities, Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich, for violating U.S. sanctions against two other settlers.

  • The Mount Hebron fund established a fundraising campaign on behalf of Yinon Levi, who was sanctioned on February 1st, and raised the equivalent of $140,000 for him.
  • Shlom Asiraich, an entity that received legal services for Ben Gvir's chief of staff ,raised $31,000 for David Chai Chasdai, who was also sanctioned on February 1 in connection with violence in the West Bank.

The big picture: The new U.S. sanctions were part of a coordinated move with the EU, which also announced sanctions against Lehava and several other extremist settlers and entities connected to settler violence against Palestinians.

  • The EU announced on Friday it decided to black list Lehava and the "Hilltop Youth," a radical youth group consisting of members known for violent acts against Palestinians and their villages in the West Bank.
  • The EU sanctioned the groups two leading figures, Meir Ettinger and Elisha Yered, who were involved in deadly attacks against Palestinians in 2015 and 2023, the EU said in a statement.
  • The EU also blacklisted Neria Ben Pazi, who has been accused of repeatedly attacking Palestinians in the West Bank since 2021, and Yinon Levi, who has taken part in multiple violent acts against neighboring villages from his residence in the Mitarim farm illegal outpost, the EU said.

What they're saying: "We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days and call on Israel to take all appropriate measures to prevent attacks by violent extremist settlers and hold those responsible accountable. The United States will not hesitate to take additional steps to promote accountability if necessary," the State Department said.

  • Ben Gvir said in a statement that the crackdown by the U.S. and the EU on Lehava and on the settlers who were blacklisted are "part of a blood libel of antisemitic Israel hating elements. I call on the Western countries to stop cooperating with these antisemites and stop the witch hunt against these settlers."
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