Israeli neo-Nazis call immigration rules into question

Getty Images News A group of violent extremist are arrested. An immigrant population comes under suspicion. Politicians ask why the new arrivals have not been integrated into society and propose tightening immigration restrictions. The storyline might seem familiar, but the groups in question are surprising—to say the least. Israelis were shocked over the weekend when ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
599467_070912_nazis_05.jpg
599467_070912_nazis_05.jpg

Getty Images News

A group of violent extremist are arrested. An immigrant population comes under suspicion. Politicians ask why the new arrivals have not been integrated into society and propose tightening immigration restrictions. The storyline might seem familiar, but the groups in question are surprising—to say the least.

Israelis were shocked over the weekend when police in the city of Petah Tivka arrested members of a neo-Nazi group who are accused of numerous attacks on orthodox Jews, drug addicts, and gays. The arrested men are all immigrants from the former Soviet Union who do not consider themselves Jewish but were allowed to immigrate under Israel's Law of Return, which allows foreigners to claim citizenship if a parent or grandparent has Jewish roots. (Incredibly, the grandmother of one of the accused is a Ukrainian holocaust survivor.) 

Getty Images News

A group of violent extremist are arrested. An immigrant population comes under suspicion. Politicians ask why the new arrivals have not been integrated into society and propose tightening immigration restrictions. The storyline might seem familiar, but the groups in question are surprising—to say the least.

Israelis were shocked over the weekend when police in the city of Petah Tivka arrested members of a neo-Nazi group who are accused of numerous attacks on orthodox Jews, drug addicts, and gays. The arrested men are all immigrants from the former Soviet Union who do not consider themselves Jewish but were allowed to immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return, which allows foreigners to claim citizenship if a parent or grandparent has Jewish roots. (Incredibly, the grandmother of one of the accused is a Ukrainian holocaust survivor.) 

Unsurprisingly, the arrest and reports that it may not be an isolated case have placed Israel’s one million ex-Soviet immigrants, many of whom have tenuous connections to Judaism, under suspicion. Several Knesset members are now calling for the law of return to be amended. As this Jerusalem Post op-ed demonstrates, even those against amending the law are increasingly wary about its effects:

Given the enormous influx into Israel of immigrants from the former USSR for the past two decades, it’s hardly surprising that assorted skinheads, Satan-worshipers and even neo-Nazi types appear occasionally on our streets, trickling in via the younger, more ethnically and culturally estranged newcomers.

The absorption of olim, or Jewish asylum-seekers, has always been one of Israel’s core values. It will probably take more than this incident to change that. All the same, ex-Soviet Israelis may be feeling a bit defensive. Israel’s Moldavian-born Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman was quick to argue that Soviet-Jewish immigrants were not Israel’s biggest immigration issue at the moment:

Lieberman said that much more pressing problems were the number of illegal workers and Sudanese – “especially those who are not from genocide-hit regions” – who were entering Israel by the week. “More Sudanese are entering than olim,” he said.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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