(Ella Shapira, a Russian immigrant)
Anti-Semitism? In Israel? Everyone is very worried about the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, yet recently there have been many headlines about anti-Semitic incidents here in Israel. Swastikas painted onto synagogues, desecration of headstones - these are no longer the legacy of the Jew in exile. The latest serious incident occurred in Bat Yam, where a group of teenagers burned an Israeli flag and mezuzahs.
One place that keeps hearing about these types of incidents is the organization “Dmir Assistance in Absorption”, the assistance center for victims of anti-Semitism.
“Everyone sweeps the issue of anti-Semitism in Israel under the rug” says Zalman Glichevsky, the president of the organization. “There is a leading skinhead website, and I discovered that they have a discussion group which includes Russian speakers from Israel”. Glichevsky, who immigrated to Israel in the early nineties, began to investigate the matter. He put an ad in a newspaper for Russian speakers and appealed to anyone who had ever experienced anti-Semitism in Israel.
Russian immigrants beating Jewish immigrants“To my surprise”, he tells, “I received hundreds of responses and I continue to receive them today. Over time I have collected a large archive of incidents. The police barely do anything, and in the majority of instances there is no report or publicity. Sometimes people call us to report an incident- but what can we do? We come, take some pictures, and put the report on our website”.
Ella Shapira from Tel Aviv is a veteran immigrant who came to Israel in 1976 from Leningrad. In her hometown, she was not able to pursue a career or get accepted to a university because she was a Jew. She personally experienced anti-Semitism and hoped that she could forget this unpleasant experience upon her arrival in Israel.
However she can tell of the many hateful utterances she has heard in the Russian stores, in public parks, or just in the streets. One incident, in 2001, even became physical, when a drunken man attacked her and yelled Russian slurs at her. “I walked in the streets and cried. “To where have we come, if in the Jewish state they humiliate me because I am Jewish”, she says.
Shapira is angered by the comprehensive disregard of the problem. “This is a subject that no one likes or is afraid to speak of. For the workers in the Jewish Agency, bringing new immigrants to Israel is a good business, many people profit from it. But they are bringing people who have no connection to Judaism, and some who have been brought up to hate it. I often encounter these situations. My outer appearance does not reveal my origins. Thus, a few weeks ago I went into a clothing store and the two saleswomen began to talk about me in Russian: 'Here is a dirty Jew, she is going to touch everything and make it dirty.' They were shocked when I answered them in Russian and explained to them that it is forbidden to speak that way”.
“I once heard a group of kids next to a school, cursing each other with the words “stinking Jew”. I decided that I had to approach them and find out why they had so much hatred towards Jews. They explained that until they came to Israel, they had no idea that they had any Jewish blood. Their parents and relatives, including those who had come to Israel- hated Jews…the word “Jew” in Russia was considered a bad word. Most of them were embarrassed to be Jews, hated it and learned from the Russians to hate Jews”.
Zalman Glichevsky says that he has tried to raise awareness among politicians, but most of his petitions were unanswered. “They simply do not want to harm the image of Israel. They have invested a lot in the image of Israel as a refuge from anti-Semitism. If there is more anti-Semitism here than in some other countries, then what is the point of the state of Israel?” He also warns: “anti-Semites who live in Israel and want to harm Jews can do it very easily. If in Russia the neo-nazis walk around with knives, here they have access to real weapons because they serve in the IDF”.
'What I have experienced here, I never experienced in the Soviet Union'
The story of B., who a few years ago conducted a “battle” against her anti-Semitic neighbor and did not receive any support from the authorities, is another example of the festering anti-Semitism under our feet. She arrived 17 years ago to a neighborhood in the south of the country, and suffered anti-Semitism from her Russian-speaking neighbors, who were not Jewish.
Her complaints to the authorities were not answered, the officials did not want to recognize the fact that anti-Semitism exists in Israel, they simply recommended that she “move and stop dealing with this matter”.
Today she lives in the same apartment, but feels very disappointed that she was not able to find an answer to her problem. She says that in the past few years she has heard a lot of anti-Semitic messages, but she is no longer able to fight the battle, since she claims she did not receive appropriate support from the government.
“The person who harassed me has moved somewhere else, but there are thousands like her”, says B. “This is a problem for the country where these people are given opportunity after opportunity. The police do not want to get involved and they (the anti-Semites) do not let us live. When I came to this country I was younger and I thought that this was a democratic country. Now I am sure that you cannot change anything…what I experienced here, I did not even experience in the Soviet Union…I hope that I will have the chance to escape from here. The only thing that is keeping me here is my children and grandchildren”.
The web site of the Jewish Agency fervently keeps track of anti-Semitic incidents around the world. The president of Israel even congratulated the site for this activity. Zalman’s organization decided to take advantage of President Katzav’s involvement and a few years ago sent him a letter explaining that the problem of anti-Semitism also exists in Israel. He responded that he is aware of this problem, but the matter is not in his realm of treatment.
The Responses: The Police are dealing with it
The spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Security, Yehuda Maman, explained to Ynet “any instance of vandalism or harming government symbols is dealt with by the police. The Minister for Internal Security, Avi Dichter, is leading the minister’s committee in a struggle against violence. His flagship project, which has been approved, by the minister’s committee and the government is ‘a city without violence’.
The project is being run in Eilat and will soon be expanded to ten other cities, including mixed cities and one Arab city. The struggle against violence, including harming state symbols, is not only the responsibility of law enforcement agencies; it begins with education at home, and formal and informal education. It begins with an understanding that these occurrences are unacceptable and that everything must be done to uproot them at the source. All of us as a society have to do more to eradicate this phenomenon”.
Michal Chaim, a spokeswoman for the police, said “every instance of incitement and Anti-Semitic racism is examined by the Ministry of Justice and the police work according to their instructions, and in instances of damage- we open an investigation when they are referred to us”.