Due to a quirk in the first law of the state of Israel, the policy that welcomes Jews to return to their homeland –The Law of Return—has allowed those who are anything but Jewish to legally become Israeli citizens.
While Jewish religious law defines a Jew as someone who was born of a Jewish mother or as someone who has converted to Judaism, secular Israeli law defines a Jew, for purposes of immigration, as someone who is descended from at least one grandfather who was Jewish.
During World War II, the Nazis defined a Jew as someone who had at least one grandfather who was Jewish. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, was often quoted as saying that the "grandfather clause" was Israel's answer to Hitler. The "grandfather clause" has never really been an issue, however, until the advent of the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union.
In the late 1980s, as the former Soviet Union began to collapse, hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been living in a land where the practice of Judaism had been forbidden since the 1920s would finally be able to come to Israel. However, hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens held identity cards as Jews, even though they had become an integral part of Soviet society - even in the most anti-Semitic areas of the Ukraine, Lithuania and other parts of the former Soviet Union.
The motivation of these non-Jews with Jewish roots was hardly based on a Zionist intention. The former Soviet Union, with a collapsing society and deteriorating economy, was a place to leave. Israel, promising material comfort, was a desired place to come to.
In the late 1980s, many senior officials of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which processes immigration to Israel, suggested that the "grandfather clause" be dropped. However, American Jewish charitable organizations objected. These organizations had been asked by Israel to raise funds for the exodus of Jews, and they protested any proposed change in the Israeli government definition of "Who is a Jew?"
In the mid-1990s, the Jewish Agency for Israel sponsored ads in the major Russian papers that proclaimed: "If you have a Jewish grandparent, you can qualify for citizenship in Israel under the Law of Return." That law also provided immigrants with a basket of free services for at least three years.
In 1997, a member of Israel's Knesset, Alex Lubotzky, a liberal-minded Orthodox Jew, announced that he was ready to check out all conversion possibilities to provide all options of conversion for new immigrants. But in December of that year, Lubotzky announced that, of the 200,000 non-Jews who had arrived in Israel under the Law of Return, less than 2,000 expressed any interest whatsoever in becoming Jewish. Instead, a Russian culture overtook many neighborhoods where former USSR residents established themselves, totally devoid of anything Jewish or anything Zionist.
The late Dr. Yuri Shtern, a hero in the Zionist resistance movement in the USSR who later became a leading member of Israel's Knesset, warned about a disturbing aspect of the non-Jewish immigration to Israel: anti-Semitism. Another former Soviet activist, Knesset member Yuli Edeslstein, concurred. Yet, until very recently, the Jewish Agency, the Israeli government and the Israeli police would not react to the increasing problems that were beginning to surface, which included sporadic attacks of non-Jewish Russians on religious Israeli Jews.
One Russian Jewish Israeli, however, Dr. Zalman Gilichinski, made it his business to document Russian anti-Semitism in Israel and to mobilize Israel's law enforcement system to tackle it. Gilichinski launched a web site, Pogrom.org.il, which consolidated reports of unimaginable anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi organizations in more than fifteen Israeli cities that were organized by non-Jews whose families had come to Israel under the Law of Return.
Gilichinski pleaded with organizations and academic institutions that monitor anti-Semitism to join with him to report anti-Semitic attacks as a threat to Israel's security and well-being. However, no groups would heed Gilichinski's warnings. Undaunted, Gilichinski took his case to the highest levels of the police five years ago and kept updating the police with comprehensive reports of attacks launched by Israeli neo-Nazi cells, along with reports of their subculture.
The unkindest cut of all was Gilichinski's revelation that the precise anti-Semitic literature, tapes, CDs, movies and books that are now banned throughout the former Soviet Union are sold and marketed in almost every bookstore and music store that serves the Russian-speaking population in Israel.
Since only one group of neo-Nazis has been caught so far, it is reasonable to assume that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a crisis that hardly anyone in Israel ever expected to cope with.
Here are three news items from this week’s news media in Israel which drive home the idea that the Neo-Nazi phenomenon and not going away:
Neo-Nazis Assault Woman Holocaust Survivor In Haifa
The neo-Nazi gang uncovered a few weeks ago in Petach Tikva caused a shock wave throughout Israel. Now the police in Haifa suspect that a similar gang is active in their city too, after two cases of violence were discovered in the Neve David neighborhood.
Rivka Zagaron, a 75-year-old concentration camp survivor, left on Monday for her usual morning stroll. As she reached the bridge that connects the neighborhood with the beach, near the Meridian Hotel, she saw two young males. "As I approached the steps, they arrived and began shouting 'Heil Hitler!'" she said later. "One of them kicked me and the other cursed me. I managed to get away but then I saw the one who assaulted me beating a cleaning worker. I never thought that in our country I would hear 'Heil Hitler!' I was lucky not to need hospitalization or medical treatment." This morning police will visit Zagaron and show her mug shots of possible suspects. Neighbors in Neve David said they had heard "Heil Hitler" being shouted late at night, and similar complaints were received from residents in the nearby Hadar neighborhood.
Another couple in Neve David, the Rodinskis, had a swastika scratched on their car. "I came out of my house one morning to get into my car, and I saw that all the air had been let out of all four tires," Valentin Rodinski said. "I was in shock, and then I saw what had been scratched on the car." An investigator from the crime scene laboratory visited the Rodinskis, and the police are investigating.
Nazi Salutes At Haifa Military Academy
There was shock at the prestigious Reali High School in Haifa when an outstanding student was shown in a video clip giving the Nazi salute, dressed in his military academy army uniform. Three clips were discovered, and in one of them the student is seen teaching his 8-year-old sister how to give the Nazi salute.
The prestigious Beit Biram military boarding school, where students also attend the Reali High School for their non-military studies, trains the IDF's future officers. Chiefs of the general staff and ministers of defense have graduated from Beit Biran. It was one of the current 12th-graders who placed the three clips showing his shocking behavior on the Web.
For some time the clips gained popularity on YouTube. But when he encountered tough responses from his friends, he hastily removed the clips from the Web, but not before Yedioth Ahronoth had learned about them.
Commanders and teachers at the school were shocked. "He is a model student, an outstanding, high-quality student, who puts a lot of effort into his studies," one teacher at the boarding school said on Monday. "He did something very stupid and admits it and is sorry. The picture is undoubtedly very bad."
A former instructor at Beit Biran said, "There has been talk about such things going on in the rooms, but I didn't know it was really happening. I'm in a state of shock. I have to say it's revolting. People like that are not fit to wear uniform."
Teen: 'In Ukraine I Was Taught To Spray Swastikas'
Is neo-Nazi activity taking place also in Migdal Haemek, the city that serves the central Galilee region?
A 17-year-old boy was arrested on Monday after confessing to having spray-painted swastikas all over the town. He said he did it because that is what they taught him to do in his home country, Ukraine.
He was caught after he came to the local police station and complained that a resident had beaten him up. Police visited the home of the suspect but learned very quickly that the dispute broke out because the complainant had sprayed a swastika on the other's car. Israel Police Superintendent Charles Bar-Ziv said the arrested youth confessed to four other cases of swastika spray-painting in the town. His favorite choice of location was in bomb shelters.The suspect is an orphan who came to Israel five years ago. He said that in the Ukraine he was taught to spray swastikas as an act against the Jews and that he had done it in Migdal Haemek out of boredom. The youth was remanded to custody. Bar-Ziv said he is suspected of Holocaust denial, which carries a maximum five-year sentence. The police are checking whether he had accomplices and whether there is a neo-Nazi cell in the town.