Israel's Nightmare: Homegrown Neo-Nazis in the Holy Land

October 9, 2007

Author: Eric Silver

Source: The Independent

Rivka Zagaron, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, left her home in the Israeli port city of Haifa one September morning for her daily stroll along the beach. As she walked, two young men accosted her and shouted: "Heil Hitler!" One of them kicked her, the other cursed her. When she managed to get away, she saw them beating a street sweeper. "I never thought," she said afterwards, "that in our country I would hear the words 'Heil Hitler'."

The attack took place a week after the arrest of eight neo-Nazis in the Tel Aviv satellite town of Petah Tikva, an incident that stunned Israel. Like the old lady, the people of this country had thought that the Jewish state, founded on the ashes of Auschwitz, was immune to the neo-Nazi virus. But the epidemic seems to be spreading, raising serious questions about Israel's failure to adjust to the multicultural society of Jews and non-Jews it has become.

Last week, police arrested two 13-year-old boys on suspicion of daubing swastikas and naked women on the door of a Haifa synagogue. A 19-year-old was charged with setting fire to a booth where Haifa's religious Jews celebrated the Sukkot festival. In Bnei Brak, a predominantly Orthodox town near Tel Aviv, someone painted "Heil Hitler" on a synagogue wall.

According to the police, the Petah Tikva gang met every few days with their leader, Eli Buatinov, the self-styled "Eli the Nazi", to decide who and where to strike next. Buatinov is quoted as saying he would never have children because his grandfather was half Jewish, and he didn't want to father a "piece of trash with even the smallest percentage of Jewish blood".

The gang members' arms are tattooed with Nazi and white power symbols. Though they protest their innocence, they are expected to come to trial later this month on charges of assault, illegally possessing weapons and denying the Holocaust.

Members of the cell, aged 16 to 21, are Russian immigrants. One is Jewish, the rest were admitted to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent – the same criterion adopted by the Third Reich for sending Jews to the gas chambers. In the former Soviet Union, their families were defined on their identity cards as "ethnic Russians". In Israel, they are outsiders, frustrated and angry. Neo-Nazism is a way to hit back where they know it hurts.