neo-Nazi ring 224.88.
(photo credit: Israel Police)
In terms of shock value, it would be hard to beat the latest front-page stories on the arrest of a neo-Nazi gang in Israel.
What could be more horrifying than the discovery that a group of Israeli citizens had adopted Nazi ideology, were in contact with racist groups elsewhere and had engaged in attacks on religious Jews and foreign workers and vandalized local synagogues with swastikas and the like?
But beyond the revulsion one feels that such a phenomenon exists in Israel, where we assumed that we would be spared such horrors, the question is what can we learn from this unfortunate situation and what must we do to prevent its recurrence?
First and foremost, the worst possible mistake would be to assume that these neo-Nazis are a reflection of the much-larger community of recent olim from the former Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, most of the younger generation of arrivals from the FSU have been quite successfully absorbed into Israeli society, a fact clearly proven by their high representation in IDF combat units and among the ranks of the fallen soldiers. The relatively-high number of those decorated for bravery in last summer's war is another indication of their successful absorption.
Having said that, we cannot ignore the fact that not all the arrivals from the FSU have been successfully absorbed into society. There are those who remain on the margins, alienated from Judaism, Israeli culture and values. But this is hardly surprising given the obvious flaws in the Law of Return, which encourages the immigration of numerous individuals whose only connection to the Jewish people is a grandparent long-forgotten.
And while one can understand the rationale that wanted to ensure that anyone who could be persecuted for his or her Jewish origins (as per the infamous Nazi Nuremburg Laws) would be granted a haven in the Jewish state, the application of the law has proven extremely problematic, having enabled the entry and the granting of automatic Israeli citizenship to people who clearly have no connection to, or sense of identification with, Judaism and/or the Jewish people.
In this respect, the handwriting was clearly on the wall, and the apprehension of neo-Nazis of FSU origin was not all that surprising. Nor was the fact that, at least according to media reports, all of those arrested are non-Jews.
Under these circumstances, the Law of Return obviously should be amended - but not necessarily to automatically prevent the entry of non-Jews to Israel.
Given the history of Soviet Jewry and that community's forced disconnect from Judaism and the Jewish people, in some cases for as long as three generations, the application of the Law of Return constitutes an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Jews to rejoin us under the most optimal conditions. This will only happen, however, if spouses and first-degree relatives of Jews will continue to be accepted, a situation that undoubtedly has certain pitfalls but ultimately has and will continue to prove worthwhile for the State of Israel.
The same cannot be said, however, for those who are generations removed from their Jewish origins and have no interest in participating in Jewish life. In such cases, there is absolutely no reason to accept them under the Law of Return and certainly not to grant them automatic citizenship.
In the past, when Israel was not an attractive immigration destination, there was no real danger that we would be flooded by economic immigrants, but today that clearly is the case. So if we do not want the further abuse of our hospitality, and are determined to spare us all the incredible embarrassment of the existence in Israel of neo-Nazis, the time has come to change the Law of Return, and the sooner the better.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.