THE arrest of eight violent neo-Nazis in the heart of Israel is leading to renewed debate over a law that automatically grants citizenship to anyone with a Jewish grandparent — one of the traditional cornerstones of the Jewish state.
The young men arrested in the town of Petah Tikva are among 1 million migrants from the former Soviet Union who have come to Israel since 1990 under this "Law of Return". Many of the newcomers do not come from practising Jewish households and are not Jewish in terms of halacha or religious law, which holds that Jewishness is passed on from mother to child.
Like the Ethiopian immigrants who began arriving in the 1980s, many of the "Russians" have failed to fully integrate with a society that sees itself as a melting-pot for Jews from all over the world. They prefer to live in Russian-speaking communities with their own media and non-kosher shops. Although many others do integrate, some complain of discrimination and alienation, and young Russians have been accused by other Israelis of being prone to drunkenness and crime.
The men, aged between 18 and 21, are expected to be charged with incitement to racism, assault, vandalism and other serious offences, based mainly on video evidence seized from their homes, which shows them viciously assaulting migrant workers and tramps and parading with Nazi symbols.
The group is also believed to have targeted religious Jews, punk rockers and homosexuals in a long series of attacks in and around Tel Aviv.
Member of parliament Zevulun Orlev, of the far-right National Union-National Religious Party, told a local newspaper that the emergence of Nazism in Israel showed the need to change the law of return so that only the children of people who were halachically Jewish would be allowed to immigrate to Israel.
Other MPs are calling for the law to be amended to allow the state to strip citizenship from Nazis and to deport them. At present Israel has no laws specifically banning hate crime or neo-Nazi activity.
The men covered their faces from a spitting, shouting crowd awaiting them when they were brought to court in handcuffs on Sunday. The alleged leader of the group, Eli Bunyatov, shouted to the crowd: "It's not us in the photos" and "I am not a Nazi".
Police say, however, that Bunyatov said in a statement: "I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi. Until we kill them all I will not rest."
A police-issued photograph of an Israeli man accused of being a neo-Nazi.
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