Neo-Nazi gang

Sophie Roger 27 November 2008

An Israeli court has sentenced a gang of neo-Nazis to up to seven years in jail for a series of violent attacks committed last year.

One of those convicted was the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.

The eight teenagers, aged 16 to 19, were arrested in October 2007 when it came to light that they had posted videos of their ‘extremely severe and horrifying’ crimes on the internet.

During their year-long spree of violence, the teenagers, dressed as skinheads, attacked Orthodox Jews, homosexuals, foreign work¬ers and homeless people.

One video, spliced with clips of Adolf Hitler, shows the gang at¬tacking a drug addict in Tel Aviv, forcing him to beg forgiveness for being a Jew.

They also painted swastikas on the doors of a Haifa synagogue and searches of their homes yielded Nazi uniforms, portraits of Hitler, knives, guns and TNT.

All eight teenagers are the sons of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Like many others, they came to Israel under its Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandpar¬ent.

This same yardstick was used by the Nazis in Germany in deciding who was Jewish enough to be dispatched to the concentration camps.

On Sunday the young men were charged with offences including conspiracy to commit a crime, assault, racial incitement and the distribution of racist materials.

Gang leader Erik Bonite, also known as ‘Eli the Nazi’, was given seven years in jail, the longest sentence.

Judge Tsvi Gurfinkel said in his ruling:

“These are horrifying actions no Jews can accept. The fact that these are Jews who immigrated to Israel and have sympathised with individuals who believed in racist theories is grave.”

The Judge conceded that the sentences were severe, but said his objective was to discourage other Israeli youths from joining in simi¬larly ‘shocking’ behaviour.

Over one million former Soviet citizens flooded into Israel during the 1990s, taking advantage of the Law of Return to escape the calamitous economic collapse that accompanied the demise of the USSR.

According to sociologists, nearly one third of those immigrants had no deep sense of Jewish culture or identity.

Sergei Makarov, a historian of Israel’s Russian community, said:

“The young Russian immigrants feel lost here. They come from poor families who expected to be appre¬ciated as loyal Jews when they arrived here.

“Instead, they found themselves with no jobs and no recognition from the Israelis. They became bit¬ter and frustrated. The neo-Nazi agenda fits them very well.”

Court documents cited social adjustment difficulties as a factor behind the teenagers’ involvement in the gang.

Most Israelis reacted to the uncovering of the neo-Nazi gang and its activities with revulsion. Many in the Jewish community had imagined that Israel was a haven from anti-Semitism for Jews after the Second World War, a country widely portrayed as having risen from the ashes of the Nazi death camps, and that it would have been immune to this kind of incident.

Sophie Roger