Israeli police have broken up a neo-Nazi cell that had been carrying out attacks on religious Jews, homosexuals, drug addicts and workers, in a case that has shocked the Jewish State.
The youths, who had Nazi tattoos and allegedly celebrated Adolf Hitler’s birthday, belonged to Soviet Jewish families who had immigrated to Israel under its law of return, which allows people with at least one Jewish grandparent to become Israeli citizens.
Under strict religious rules, however, many of the former Soviet immigrants are not actually considered to be Jewish.
“It is difficult to believe that Nazi ideology sympathisers can exist in Israel, but it is a fact,” said Major Revital Almog, the police officer in charge of the year-long investigation that began when vandals daubed swastikas and Hitler’s name on synagogues in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv.
While such incidents have been on the rise in Eastern Europe, this was believed to have been the first time it had occurred on such a scale in Israel, which was formed in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust that killed six million Jews.
“The tragic irony in this is that they would have been chosen for annihilation by the Nazi they strive to emulate,” said Arieh O’Sullivan, spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, which targets cases of anti-Semitism.
Israeli media published videotapes that the group of eight men, aged between 16 and 21, had made of themselves, showing them giving the Nazi salute and kicking a victim to the ground in a subway.
The news has caused deep shock in Israel, and prompted calls by the Eli Yishai, the ultra-Orthodox Trade and Industry Minister, to call for a tightening of the regulations that have allowed more than million residents of the former Soviet Union, as well as many Ethiopians of Jewish descent, to become Israeli citizens.
“We have to rid ourselves of this Satan who lives in the heart of Israel,” the minister said.
Israel’s law of return is based on the Nazi definition of what constitutes a Jew, as laid out in Nuremberg in the 1930s, on the grounds that if a person was considered Jewish enough to be murdered by the Nazi regime, they are Jewish enough to live in Israel.
Under its rules, more than a million people from the former Soviet Union flocked to Israel in the 1990s. But according to the immigration and absorption ministry, more than 300,000 of them do not consider themselves Jewish.
The neo-Nazi group was allegedly headed by 19-year-old Eli Buanitov, known within the cell as “Eli the Nazi”. He and his acolytes are believed to have been in regular contact with neo-Nazi groups abroad.
The Israeli Nazis had White Supremacist insignia tattooed on their bodies as well as the number 88, suspected of being a code for ‘Heil Hitler,’ as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Buanitov was quoted by police as saying, “I won’t ever give up, I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi, until we kill them all I will not rest.”
The group had even discussed planning a murder, said police who found knives, explosives, Nazi uniforms, Hitler portraits and other weapons in the group’s possession.
“The level of violence was outrageous,” said Major Almog. “This is the first time that we’ve … arrested such a large number of individuals who are part of an organized neo-Nazi group.”
Buanitov’s mother tried to excuse her son, saying that Israeli authorities had done little to help Russian immigrants, who she said suffered from regular discrimination.
“My son is a charity case, he has nothing against the state,” she said. “He finished junior high and stopped attending school after Arabs stabbed him and the police did nothing about it.
“He has no connection with the Nazis. Our family suffered enough under the Nazis.”
The group’s apparent penchant for filming their own brutal attacks appeared to have greatly bolstered the police’s case. One video showed the gang standing around a heroin addict, who was also a Soviet immigrant but who insisted he was Jewish.
He was made to kneel down and beg “forgiveness from the Russian people for being Jewish and a junky,” Israeli media reported.
There is no law explicitly banning anti-Semitism in the Jewish state, simply because it was never expected to occur.