Neo-Nazism thriving in the Holy Land

Concern is growing over the action of neo-Nazi groups inside Israel. Society is split over the reasons for young people turning to the hostile ideology.

In November 2008 eight members of a neo-Nazi gang in Israel were convicted and sentenced. The longest prison term was 7 and a half years, with the oldest convicted aged 20 years old and the youngest just 17.

The group was charged with violence against foreigners, drug addicts and homosexuals.
Many in Israeli society were sure that putting them behind bars would close this neo-Nazi chapter in Jewish history.

However, expert Zalman Gillichensky is convinced this is only the tip of the iceberg:

“The problem is that neo-Nazism is very popular today. It's on the rise in Russia and other post-Soviet states too. Youngsters can connect with these organisations through the internet. It’s very easy to do, and they hear that they’re always right and strong,” says Gillichensky.

He adds that the Israeli government is not doing enough to fight the phenomenon. This is not the first time that the country has seen swastikas. Seventy years ago in the heart of Tel Aviv the Nazi flag flew from the roof of almost every house.

Until 1939 the Sarona neighbourhood in Tel Aviv was the home of the German Templars.

“They were very respected, they were really good, religious people,” says Uri Avneri, a leading Israeli journalist. “But when Hitler came to power in Germany and Germans all over the world started to be proud of the new, strong Germany, these settlers, who had already been in the country for almost a hundred years, became slowly infected by Nazism.”

At the beginning of World War Two, the British decided to kick them out and sent them to Australia far away from the war, but this didn’t put an end to Nazism in the Holy Land.

Inspired by a hatred for the British occupation of Palestine and their White Paper that restricted Jewish immigration, some radical Jews were prepared to look for help anywhere.

“If the British are our enemy, then the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and they tried to contact the Germans and the Italians in order to get the help to drive the British out,” Uri Avneri explains.

In those days Uri Averi was a member of the Jewish underground resistance movement known as Irgun.

“The Irgun made a pact with fascist Italy. Now fascist Italy was not considered anti-semitic. In the early thirties there were even some meetings between Zionist leaders and Mussolini, so they met Italian agents and wrote down a co-operation agreement. Unfortunately these Italian agents were British intelligence agents, so they arrested those connected to it and that was the end of the story,” says Averi.

While the youths will be behind bars for many years to come, many in Israel believe it’s not prison, but education that will prevent Nazism from spreading in the Holy Land.