Finally, Israeli society discovered its seed of destruction – a group of thugs who used neo-Nazi symbols as a framework for its acts of violence. Populist politicians won't miss this opportunity and we already see proposals for changing the law or resorting to draconian measures – expulsion from the country, revocation of citizenship, and amendment of the Law of Return.
While the phenomenon that was discovered (which is not new at all) certainly deserves to be condemned and addressed by the legal system, the exaggerated responses should arouse the most concern, or at least make us wonder. Everyone agrees that using Nazi symbols or using violence is a wrong act that must be fought with the legal means available to us. The gang that was exposed will be punished by law, so that imitation attempts will be prevented as much as is possible.
However, is this disturbed group really where the seed of destruction lies? Aren't the excited responses to this group a sort of alibi, for both the politicians and public as a whole, used to prevent us from seeing reality for what it is?
Israeli society is replete with racism and violence regardless of this group. In Israel, neo-Nazi groups of the type uncovered now have no chance of becoming a "trend," not only because in Israel and among Jews there is particular revulsion in the face of Nazi associations, but also because Israeli racism already has another broad and popular target – the Arab population, whether in the occupied territories or in Israel proper.
In order to fight this racism, the politicians who are crying out over the neo-Nazi gang should be changing their positions and examining their own actions.
The people who are speaking out now don't notice, for example, that they're using methods of thinking that bring up historical associations that are no less aggravating. One Knesset member, for example, demanded that we carefully examine the grandparents of new immigrants and disqualify those who only have one Jewish grandparent – haven't we already been victims of the classification to "half Jew," "quarter Jew," etc.?
Moreover, do we accept the assumption that only those whose origins are 100 percent Jewish cannot be afflicted by a Nazi and racist perversion? Will the criterion for revoking citizenship over neo-Nazi activity, as another Knesset member demanded, be only the usage of symbols, as was the case with the above-mentioned group of thugs, or based on other things as well? And then, who will determine what justifies the revocation of citizenship and what doesn't?
We should also be outraged by abuse of Palestinians
And after we hear righteous voices calling to protect foreign workers from the violence of the above gang, won't we be thinking about the violence we use against those same foreign workers all the time, and with official backing? Does the manner in which immigration authorities handle foreign workers constitute violence worthy of criticism? Isn't the process of pursuit and expulsion of these foreign workers a case of violence against foreigners? Isn't the attitude that foreign dark-skinned soccer players encounter from fans a blatant expression of racism that should be condemned?
On a more fundamental level, isn't the "working assumption" of Israeli society, which talks about a "Jewish state," about a preference to Jews to the point of undermining the rights of non-Jews? The manner in which settlers hurt residents of the territories is a display of violence that is no less dangerous than that of the gang that captivated public and political attention.
The manner in which we abuse the population of the occupied territories, even with no relation to our fears of terrorism, should outrage us no less that the tales of the neo-Nazi gang.
Many Israelis associate Nazism and neo-Nazism only with anti-Semitism. In this case the group is not motivated by anti-Semitism (beating strictly Orthodox or disabled people is one and the same for them,) but rather, racism. We must not accept the "defense" argument emerging at this time: "The group is not anti-Semitic." We're talking about violent racism, and Jews can certainly be racist and violent.
Neo-Nazi groups in Europe and the US that persecute "others" – homosexuals, minorities, Jews and the disabled – by combining a racist tradition with a sense of social inferiority in order to create an outlet and justification for their aggression. The same is true for the Israeli neo-Nazi gang. Therefore, we should look into another question: What led a group of new immigrants from Eastern Europe to use this type of violence backed by this type of ideology? Isn't the attitude of Israeli society to ethnic Jewish origins, that is, Jewish ethnocentricity and racism, an indirect or direct reason for the scary phenomenon we're discussing now?
Any way we look at it, the real story is the story of Israeli society's helplessness in the fight against racism and in favor of tolerance, liberalism, and democracy. If we cry out now, we should be going back to the basics: The education system and socialization on the one hand, and the conduct of the legislator and executive on the other hand, based on a broad system-wide vision.
The writer heads the German History department at Jerusalem's Hebrew University