‘Ungrateful, Bad People’: How Ben-Gvir Treated the Activists Who Complained of Sexual Abuse in Far-right Group

The head of the Otzma Yehudit party denounced a couple who convinced a girl to complain to the police about abuse by a fellow member of Lehava, convicted terrorist Yitzhak Gabay, after Ben-Gvir’s wife and Lehava leader Benzi Gopstein allegedly tried to cover up the affair

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Itamar and Ayala Ben-Gvir, this month.
Itamar and Ayala Ben-Gvir, this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

If coalition talks end as expected, in the next few weeks Itamar Ben-Gvir will be appointed Israel’s public security minister. Since the November 1 Knesset election, the Otzma Yehudit party chairman has expressed a desire to reform the country’s police and “strengthen its law-enforcement powers.”

But when it comes to a case of alleged sexual abuse within the far-right extremist Lehava organization involving people close to him, Ben-Gvir and his wife, Ayala, denounced the couple who involved the police in the matter.

“They are ungrateful people and liars,” Ben-Gvir wrote about Aviya and Raphael Morris, prominent Lehava activists who had urged a young female volunteer in the organization to file a complaint that she was sexually assaulted by a Lehava activist. The couple also accused Ayala Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein – a senior Lehava figure – of trying to convince the victim not to appeal to the authorities and of attempting to cover up the incident.

Benzi Gopstein and Lehava activists protesting the Jerusalem Pride parade, last year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In correspondence seen by Haaretz, Itamar Ben-Gvir asserted that “they [the Morrises] didn’t really care about the girl, only about publicity and their hatred for Benzi [Gopstein].” Ayala Ben-Gvir called the couple’s actions “nastiness, vileness, lies, distortions and evil.”

The girl first informed Gopstein in the summer of 2020 that Yitzhak Gabay, a Lehava member who had served time for torching Jerusalem’s bilingual Jewish-Arab Max Rayne school in Jerusalem, had sexually abused her at the organization’s offices.

According to her account, which was backed by an office cleaner who allegedly witnessed the incident, the girl had asked Gabay for help fixing a problem with her computer. Gabay purportedly twice exploited the opportunity to abuse her. He admitted to committing the act and in April was indicted. He is now standing trial in the case in Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.

Yitzhak Gabay in 2018.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Gopstein, who is close to Gabay, initially ordered him to stay away from the Lehava offices when there were women present but opted not to report the incident to the police. Gopstein later claimed that he recommended that the girl, who was under 18, file a complaint but that she refused. He also told Ayala Ben-Gvir about the incident, and she reportedly advised the girl not to get law-enforcement authorities involved.

The Morris couple, whom the girl approached after the incident along with Gopstein, say that Ayala Ben-Gvir claimed the reason she told the girl not to approach authorities was out of concern for the girl’s future marriage prospects.

In contrast to Gopstein and Ayala Ben-Gvir’s advice, the couple said they believed that the case should be fully investigated by the police. In doing so, they argued, the girl would receive help and similar incidents could be avoided in the future.

About a year after the incident, in June 2021, the girl finally filed a complaint with the police, and a few days after that, the Kan public broadcaster reported on the affair and on improprieties in its handling.

‘Lehava only deals with Arabs’

The news report broke the silence surrounding the affair, which had been kept secret even from Lehava’s own members. Soon thereafter, the Morris couple both publicly and privately denounced the conduct of Lehava, Gopstein and Ayala Ben-Gvir. In response, Itamar and Ayala Ben-Gvir severed contact with the Morrises, accusing them of disloyalty.

Aviya Morris acknowledged in two popular Israeli far-right WhatsApp groups that it was she who convinced the girl to file the complaint and that she also informed the girl’s parents of the case.

Raphael and Aviya Morris.Credit: Raphael and Aviya Morris Facebook page

“There are things that I know for certain,” she wrote in the group. “A long time ago, we told Ayala that Lehava itself should take action [in the case] to preserve its good name. She claimed that if word got out, it would only cause damage and that we were just pretending to be fighters for justice.” Raphael Morris added that “the holy organization of Lehava did everything it could to cover [the affair] up. Lehava only knows how to deal with Arabs, but when Jews harass, that’s great.”

Eliraz Fein, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Yizhar who attracted attention when he called for people to attack IDF soldiers, backed the Morrises and rebutted Gopstein’s claims.

“Unfortunately, it’s not exactly true that the victim was urged to complain to the police,” Fein wrote. “It took quite a bit of time before the parents learned about it. Ayala, Benzi and Anat [Gopstein’s wife] certainly looked after the victim in ways they believed were right, that in my opinion were not entirely suitable for the situation.”

The Ben-Gvirs left the WhatsApp group in protest. Ayala Ben-Gvir wrote before leaving that the Morrises “knowingly lie, distort, misrepresent and then demand a reward for their righteousness.” In her words, “I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time. Unfortunately, I can no longer be a part of this group with a couple who acted like Zimri and sought the reward of Pinchas [a biblical expression referring to someone who has behaved immorally but pretends to act righteously]. I won’t forgive them for spilling my blood.”

Itamar Ben-Gvir agreed with his wife’s remarks against “the lying do-gooders, those who I represented [in court] pro bono, who were like family and who pretended to show how much they cared and supported us.” He asserted that the Morris couple were angry that Gopstein refused to promote them within the ranks of Lehava and Otzma Yehudit.

“I know how much Ayala supported that young woman and helped her,” the Otzma Yehudit lawmaker said. “But the ‘thanks’ she got appeared today in articles that Raphael [Morris] and a few other good souls wrote, which attempt to harm Benzi, Anat and along the way Ayala."

"I remained quiet for many years, Raphael, and even backed you when people from the movement told me that you were a snake, but this is too much. Your hatred and lust for honor have removed you from our world. Too bad,” Ben-Gvir wrote.

In a voice message sent to the group, Ben-Gvir added angrily: “It’s all out there. We know everything. When I have the time to deal with this, I’ll deal with it. It's just a shame and disgrace. Ugly behavior. You want everything to work according to your plan, to squeeze Benzi with threats."

"I don’t have the strength to be here with snakes and such bad people,” the lawmaker said before also leaving the group.

Ze’ev Wolf, a lawyer who regularly represents Ben-Gvir in libel suits he files, wrote in one of the WhatsApp groups that even though he wasn’t privy to the details and was “against silencing and in favor of dealing with such acts harshly … there are times when broader factors need to be taken into account. For example, that Lehava is already in the spotlight and is fighting enough wars with the establishment and the media. What is the use of the [bad] publicity now?”

Aviya and Raphael Morris were leading figures in Lehava and Otzma Yehudit for 15 years. They took part in establishing illegal West Bank outposts, and were ardent Temple Mount activists. Aviya Morris rose to prominence a decade ago when she spat on Arab Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi at Bar-Ilan University and was arrested for shouting at Muslims, “Mohammed is a pig.”

She was also suspected of vandalizing a monastery in Jerusalem, but the case against her was dismissed. However, since the sexual assault affair was made public, the couple’s membership in Lehava has been revoked and they have been ostracized from the small circle of extreme right-wing leaders.

In response, Ben-Gvir’s spokesman said, “Ayala Ben-Gvir isn’t authorized to deal with indecent acts that occur within the Lehava organization. When she heard about the incident, she expressed the opinion that it should be taken care of by the police and tried to convince the young woman to go to the police and get treatment. She refused to do so and didn’t even want to tell her parents. When the young woman chose not to go to the media on the grounds that it would cause her harm, Mrs. Ben-Gvir supported her."

“Itamar Ben-Gvir wasn’t aware of the incident at the time it happened. His one protest against this dubious couple occurred long after the affair and after the complaint was made to the police, and it dealt with the fact that Ben-Gvir realized that they had tried to blackmail the girl, even going to the media against her will and mentioning his wife’s name. Ben-Gvir fights against sexual harassment and has achievements to his name in this area.”

The Morris couple said: “The Ben-Gvir and Morris families have worked together on various matters for more than a decade. Our views on a variety of issues don’t always coincide and as part of our working relationship, we communicate with each other in various ways. The quotes appearing in this article are extracts from old and private chats that were obtained in ways unknown to us, fraudulently or in violation of the law, and were not intended for the public. We will continue to work with Itamar Ben-Gvir and, when we don’t agree, without him. We won’t let any private discussions undermine his activities or ours.”

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