Israeli police said yesterday that they had detained 15 suspected Jewish extremists after an undercover investigation into a group accused of tracking down and threatening Arab men dating Jewish women.
Among those arrested was a prominent leader of the Israeli extreme right group Lehava, Benzi Gopstein, according to the news agency AFP.
Police said that arrests and searches for evidence were carried out simultaneously at addresses in Jerusalem, northern and southern Israel and in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
'Fifteen suspects known to the police as active in the Lehava organisation were arrested or detained for questioning during the night as part of a police investigation on suspicion that they acted to locate and threaten [Arab] minority members with connections to Jewish young women or girls,' a police statement said.
Five of the suspects were later taken for remand hearings, police added.
Gopstein insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He told reporters at his hearing at Jerusalem magistrates' court that he was arrested for telling a Jewish woman that she should not date an Arab man, adding: 'Lehava operates within the limits of law only. It's all nonsense.'
Gopstein was put under house arrest by the court, while the remand of two others was extended by two days.
The remaining 12 were allowed to return home, according to the newspaper Haaretz.
Lehava is opposed to inter-marriage, and in August 2014, its activists held a rally at which racist slogans, including 'Death to Arabs!', were shouted at the wedding of a Muslim man and Jewish woman near Tel Aviv.
In April six Israelis, including two soldiers, were arrested for alleged racist attacks against Arabs with knives and other weapons, and charged with 'terrorist' offences, with police saying that they were influenced by a Lehava video.
In 2015, Gopstein was also questioned by police after he condoned torching churches in Israel, in accordance with a mediaeval Jewish commandment to destroy places of idol-worship.
Yesterday's police statement said that the latest arrests were the result of an undercover investigation.
'It uncovered organised and pre-meditated activity believed to have been carried out by the suspects, known members of Lehava,' the statement said.
Arabs make up some 17.5 per cent of Israel's 8 million population.