September 11, 2007 / 12:41 PM / 10 years ago

Israelis charged with "neo-Nazi" assault

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Eight Israelis accused of belonging to a neo-Nazi cell that attacked religious Jews and painted swastikas in synagogues were charged on Tuesday on counts including aggravated assault and weapon possession.

The 16- to 19-year-old male suspects, who are accused of videotaping a more than year-long spree of attacks in central Israel, were also charged in Tel Aviv District Court with conspiracy to commit a crime and disseminating racist material.

The case has shocked a Jewish state which was a haven for survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, and spurred debate over whether immigration criteria should be stricter or whether the state has failed to assimilate immigrants properly.

Shimshon Weiss, a lawyer for the alleged ring-leader, said his client denied the charges against him.

The counts listed in the indictment carry maximum prison terms ranging from 2 to 8 years each, Weiss said.

All eight are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. A police spokesman said they won Israeli citizenship because they each have at least one Jewish grandparent, though most of them are not considered Jewish under rabbinical law.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stressed the attacks were isolated and urged Israelis not to blame immigrants or the Russian-speaking community.

Some one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel since the fall of Communism in 1990, many of whom are not considered Jewish by religious authorities.

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