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Anti-Semitic crimes fester within Israel

By Harry De Quetteville
LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
March 5, 2007


JERUSALEM -- When police arrested six youths on suspicion of burning Jewish prayer parchments and flags bearing the Star of David last month, it appeared to be the kind of anti-Semitic hate crime that plagues many parts of the world.
    But this time, the young suspects were Israeli, and the site of their rampage was the run-down town of Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv. For the head of the police unit investigating the attacks, it was the latest in a series of anti-Semitic incidents in which swastikas have been sprayed on synagogues and graveyards desecrated within the Jewish state.
    "We are talking about 'troublers' of Israel," said the local chief superintendent, Meir Cohen, after taking the youths into custody. "They hate anything related to the Jewish faith. We are trying to find all of the places they have vandalized."
    While Israeli organizations such as the Jewish Agency maintain a vigilance against anti-Semitic attacks beyond Israel's borders, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism inside Israel is hardly monitored.
    Zalman Glichevsky runs an organization called Dmir for victims of anti-Semitism within the country. "The government knows very well that there is a problem, but they don't react," he said.
    "It's like talking to a wall, they want to brush this problem under the carpet. Israel has been created as a refuge for Jews, but when it turns out that anti-Semitism is here, too, the refuge is ruined."
    Mr. Glichevsky said about 500 Jews in Israel turned to Dmir last year after encountering such hate crimes and the numbers were growing. He linked its rise to the mass immigration to Israel from Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    Marina Niznik, a Tel Aviv specialist on immigration, said Russians now comprise about 1.3 million, or 20 percent, of Israel's 6.5 million population. Under Israel's immigration policy, anyone with a single Jewish grandparent qualifies for citizenship, leaving some new immigrants feeling only tenuously Jewish.
    The policy is controversial, said Mrs. Niznik. "Many Russians came to Israel for economic reasons and now face huge cultural differences. Many children feel left out and, as a reaction, form extremist views."
    Her research has shown that many youths of Russian origin in Israel feel more Russian than Jewish. "There's no doubt that the sense of Russianness is very strong for people here," she said.
    "In Russia, there's no concept of multiculturalism or political correctness, and there's a very strong Christian church. As a result, a lot of Israelis are afraid of the Russian ghetto in Israel."
    At the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Tel Aviv, its director, Dina Porat, called for calm over the highly sensitive subject.
    "We have no data on anti-Semitism in Israel and don't study it. But our general impression is that this is not much to write home about," she said.
    At Dmir, however, Mr. Glichevsky insists that this attitude is complacent, and that incidents such as the repeated break-ins and obscene graffiti in synagogues in the southern town of Arad since the beginning of the year mark a serious escalation of the problem.
    "Anti-Semitism in Israel is now taking a much more radical form," he said. "It's taking the form of neo-Nazism."
    



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