JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Immigrants from the former Soviet Union formed a neo-Nazi cell in Israel that assaulted religious Jews and foreign workers and daubed swastikas in synagogues, police said on Sunday.
A photograph of six young men raising their arms in a Nazi salute was featured on the front page of the Jewish state’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. “Unbelievable”, a headline read.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said eight suspects were arrested in all. At a court hearing, they denied involvement in any neo-Nazi activity.
None of the suspects was born to a Jewish mother, the Orthodox definition of a Jew, Rosenfeld said, but qualified for citizenship in Israel under civil law because each had at least one Jewish grandparent.
“The cell members adopted Hitler’s ideology and created their own unique language which includes music, video clips, insignia, graffiti, and tattoos all depicting Nazi ideology,” a police statement said.
“Members of the group would document attacks in which they beat innocent and helpless people who belonged to different minorities,” the statement said.
Foreign workers, homosexuals, Orthodox Jews and drug addicts were the main victims in attacks in the Tel Aviv area over the past year.
Cell members also painted swastikas in several synagogues, along with “Death to the Jews” — with misspellings in Hebrew — on a building near one of the houses of worship, the statement said.
The group, police said, had “strong ties and connections to other neo-Nazi cells active in Germany and elsewhere overseas”.
Rosenfeld said the suspects would be charged with “causing bodily harm to individuals and sabotage to synagogues”.
Amos Hermon, an official in the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental group in Israel that helps organize immigration, said neo-Nazism in the Jewish state was a “minor phenomenon”.
He said it was likely the alleged cell members were suffering from “immigration shock” and vented their frustrations by expressing “some of the most hurtful sentiments towards the Jewish people” and emulating behavior they may have witnessed in the former Soviet Union.