The following article was run by Haaretz on February 25. It is the first installment of Moti Katz investigation of anti-Semitism in Israel. I referenced the second article on Israeli punks last week. Again, the culprits appear to be members of the Russian diaspora, especially youths who find themselves unable to assimilate into Israeli society. Beside such cultural difficulties, could the rise in anti-Semitism in Israel also be called a form of blowback from Israel’s policy of encouraging “Jewish” immigration from the CIS as a way to replace Palestinian labor? Maybe. Maybe not. Katz doesn’t broach the subject though it seems to haunt it in terms of the political economy of anti-Semitism in Israel.
By Moti Katz
Six minors, immigrants from the CIS, were arrested early this year on suspicion of burning flags and stealing mezuzahs from Nahshonim School in Bat Yam. They also confessed to stealing mezuzahs from homes in the city on eight additional occasions. The teens attributed their actions to a hatred for Jews and Judaism. In the past three months, there have been five break-ins at synagogues in the southern city of Arad. All of the incidents have involved vandalism, the theft of charity boxes and the scrawling of obscenities on the walls.
In the past several years there have been similar incidents carried out by young immigrants from the CIS, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, throughout the country. Many religious institutions have instituted security measures as a result. In 2006 there were at least six reports of broken headstones, desecration of synagogues and graffiti with swastikas and anti-Semitic sentiments, according to figures gathered by Damir, an organization that assists victims of anti-Semitism.
Vandalism is not the only expression of anti-Semitism in Israel. In 2003 a Web site operated by Ilia Zolotov, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who called himself a “Russian patriot,” was exposed. The Web site, whose name translates to the White Israeli Union, was housed on an Israeli server. Its content included Nazi and Holocaust-denial materials. It was eventually closed down by the police. Zolotov was sentenced to community service and sent on a tour of death camps in Poland.
Haaretz has uncovered Internet sites put up by Israelis in their 30s who immigrated from the CIS that supply Nazi and Russian nationalist content.
Irina, 18, lives in central Israel. She belonged to a group of young people, “Nazi skinheads,” that terrorized the ultra-Orthodox residents of a central-Israel city. “I was a ‘skin girl,'” relates Irina, whose was the girlfriend of the group’s leader, Leonid [a pseudonym – M.K.]. Leonid, who is now about 19, immigrated at age 10 from Azerbaijan on the Law of Return. The only Jew in his family was one of his grandfathers.
Irina says that Leonid’s downslide began in the ninth grade. He felt alienated from Israeli society and decided to join up with a Nazi skinhead group. “We were a bunch of Russian new immigrants, boys and girls,” Irina relates. “Most of the boys had shaved heads and wore army pants.”
A group of about 15 teens who believed in the Nazi ideology coalesced around Leonid. One of their favorite activities, Irina says, was attacking Haredi. “Nazi skinheads hate the religious, especially Haredim, for them the Haredim are the ugly Jews … On weekends we’d meet in the parks, drinking and smoking and listening to Nazi music,” and then they would go out in search of dossim [a derogatory Hebrew term for religious Jews], Irina related. “On Hitler’s birthday we’d met at a cemetery and celebrate,” she said.
Nazi Web sites in Israel
Since the closure of Zolotov’s Web site, his successors have gotten more sophisticated. Now they use servers based abroad, usually in Russia, to evade the authorities. One such site operator is Alex [a pseudonym], who is in his 30s and holds a security-related job. His site, www.rusnatcentre.tk, is hosted by a Russian server. Alex refers to himself on the site as “the Russian tank operator” or “the fighter from Jerusalem,” a tribute to his service in the Armored Corps. In a conversation with Haaretz, he denied that his site carries anti-Semitic messages, asserting that it is pro-Russian only.
“The Russian National Center is a Russian nationalist association that lives in Israel,” Alex explains. “The main mission of our organization is nationalist propaganda among ethnic Russians residing in Israel, encouraging their return to Russia, opposing the return of Jews from Israel to Russia, and opposing conversion to Judaism,” Alex said. He will not reveal membership figures, saying only it is a “global organization whose members are adults, most of them after army service and the majority living in the center of the country.”
A Haaretz probe reveals that the RNC site is indeed Russian nationalist in nature, but it also contains anti-Semitic material. The home page features a Celtic cross, a symbol that has been adopted by neo-Nazis, and warns all Jews who have immigrated to Israel not to dare to return to Russia. It calls on all non-Jewish Russians who immigrated to Israel to return to Russia and to leave the Jews [using the derogatory Russian term zhid] in their country.
Alex is active on other, specifically Nazi, forums, such as www.slavnazi.com, in which he recommended Jurgen Graf’s “The Myth of the Holocaust” to readers in July 2005. There were 118 favorable responses from Israel to that posting.
Alex also regularly recommends films and music in Russian with Nazi content. One of his recommendations in the latter category is Kolovrat, which is known as a Nazi band. About a year ago the band members were arrested and banned for distributing Nazi propaganda when they traveled to the Czech Republic on a concert tour. Alex’s site asks readers to sign a petition calling for the group’s release, which has garnered about 150 signatures from Israeli Internet users.
Alex gets mad when he is asked whether the call to release Kolovrat is anti-Semitic. “Of course such an action won’t please the Jews, like any other action on the part of Russian nationalist!” Alex says.
When asked whether the mass Jewish immigration of Russian Jews in the 1990s was a mistake, he says it depends which immigrants you mean. “The Jewish immigration to Israel is the best and only solution, apparently, to the Jewish question in Russia. On the other hand, the mass emigration of ethnic Russians from Russia is a big mistake that we [the RNC] must correct.”
Dr. Elana Gomel, chair of the English Department at Tel Aviv University and author of “Atem ve’anachnu” (“You and Us”), a book on being Russian in Israel, agrees that there is anti-Semitism in Israel. “After the collapse of Communism,” she says, “states that were part of the Soviet Union licked their wounds and looked for ways to make up for the downfall, and it came in the form of reinforcing their nationalism. The vacuum left by Communism was filled by fascism and Nazism,” Gomel says.
“Their message is, ‘if I’m not accepted here as a Jew, then I’ll remain Russian,'” Gomel said. “The enormous gap in mentality between the cultures of the Sabras and the immigrants doesn’t help their absorption into society and they develop antagonism to Israeli society. The absurdity,” Gomel adds, “is that even if the anti-Semitic nationalists return to Russia, the Russian anti-Semites won’t accept them and will persecute them just as people of Jewish extraction in the Wehrmacht during the Nazi regime were persecuted. The phenomenon is sick because it is a form of self-flagellation that cannot be stopped,” Gomel said.