The leader of a far-Right Israeli group has risked arrest by apparently voicing support for arson attacks on Christian churches in Israel amid an official crackdown on Jewish extremism.

Benzi Gopstein, the outspoken head of Lehava – which has drawn notoriety for its violent assaults on Jewish-Arab assimilation – made the remarks at a panel discussion for Jewish yeshiva students when asked by a fellow panelist if he believed burning down churches in Israel was justified.

He later tried to evade accusations of inciting his followers to fire-raise, saying it was the government’s responsibility to carry out what he presented as a religious teaching of the 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides.

“Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?” Mr Gopstein told the panel.

His comment alarmed his questioner Benny Rabinovich, a journalist, who told him: “Benzi, I must say I’m really shocked by what you’re saying here. You are essentially saying we must go out and burn down churches. You’re saying something insane here.”

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