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Israelis shocked
by discovery of neo-Nazi ring of immigrant youths

Israelis shocked
by discovery of neo-Nazi ring of immigrant youths

Israelis were shocked by the arrest of eight young immigrants from the former Soviet Union who wore Nazi insignia while filming themselves carrying out violent crimes of hate, rejecting in the most belligerent way the underpinning of the Jewish state founded after the Nazi Holocaust of World War II.

Police announced the arrest of the eight on Sunday and released videos showing them kicking helpless victims on the ground to a bloody pulp, hitting a man over the head with an empty beer bottle, and proclaiming their allegiance to Adolf Hitler in a Nazi salute.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who viewed the footage with his ministers at the weekly cabinet, reacted with outrage at what he called ''violence for the sake of violence.''

''I am sure that there is not a person in Israel who can remain indifferent to these scenes, which indicate that we too as a society have failed in the education of these youths,'' he said.

While Israel has experienced isolated incidents of anti-Semitism in the past, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the arrests were the first time an organized cell has been discovered.

The eight youths, who immigrated to Israel as children, were arrested in connection with at least 15 attacks against religious Jews, foreign workers, drug addicts, the homeless, and gays. A ninth member has fled the country, he said.

''This was a cell, an active neo-Nazi group, that in fact began here in Israel in working and carrying out sabotages as well as different attacks on individuals,'' Rosenfeld said.

Under the Israeli ''law of return,'' a person can claim automatic citizenship if a parent or grandparent has Jewish roots. Authorities say that formula allowed many Soviets with questionable ties to Judaism to immigrate here after the Soviet Union disintegrated. About 1 million Soviets have moved here since the early 1990s, making up a significant part of Israel's 7 million citizens.

All eight suspects were immigrants with loose Jewish heritage, who did not identify themselves as Jews and whose families had come to Israel to escape hardships in the former Soviet Union.

The Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, continues to touch the most sensitive nerve in Israel. Incidents of anti-Semitism around the world outrage Israelis, and the discovery of such violence in the country's midst dominated talk on morning radio shows and made the front pages of newspapers with headlines such as ''unbelievable.''

Olmert warned that the acts of the few should not tarnish the great achievements of the Russian immigrants, who include doctors, professors, scientists, and cabinet ministers.

''I stress that we should not implicate an entire community and engage in generalizations,'' he said.

Cabinet minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said he would propose taking away the suspects' citizenship. Several others suggested amending the law of return. Ironically, Israel doesn't specifically have a hate-crimes law, and the case has drawn calls for new legislation.

A court decided Sunday to keep the suspects in custody on assault and vandalism charges. The young men covered their faces with their shirts during the hearing, revealing Nazi-themes tattoos adorning their arms. They did not comment.

News of the arrests drew condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based group that fights anti-Semitism, and Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

''The tragic irony in this is that they would have been chosen for annihilation by the Nazi they strive to emulate,'' the ADL said.

''While this is a marginal and extreme case, it is nevertheless intolerable,'' said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.

Police found knives, spiked balls, explosives, and other weapons in the suspects' possession, Rosenfeld said. One photo that was seized showed a suspect holding an M16 rifle in one hand and in the other, a sign reading ''Heil Hitler,'' he added.

Group members wore tattoos of Celtic crosses--a symbol adopted by white supremacists--and barbed wire fences, and the number ''88,'' code for ''Heil Hitler'' because ''H'' is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Another tattoo proclaimed ''White Power.''

Police discovered the skinhead ring after investigating the desecration of two synagogues--sprayed with swastikas--in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikva more than a year ago, Rosenfeld said. Police computer experts determined they maintained contacts with neo-Nazi groups abroad, and materials seized include a German-language video about neo-Nazis in the U.S.

Police identified the group leader as Eli Boanitov, 19, of Petah Tikva--known as ''Eli the Nazi.'' Gang members were arrested over the course of the past two months.

''I won't ever give up. I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi. Until we kill them all I will not rest,'' Boanitov was quoted as saying, in a police statement. (Aron Heller, AP)

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