(photo credit: AP)
Worshipers at the 100-year-old Great Synagogue in Petah Tikva saw the graffiti outside the building when they arrived at 4:30 a.m. Thursday to open it for morning prayers. A worse shock, however, awaited them when they opened the historic building's doors. Swastikas and satanic graffiti were scrawled throughout the interior, with particular attention devoted to the ark, where Nazi-themed graffiti were drawn on the doors and on the Torah scrolls, which had been thrown to the floor.
"Hitler" had been written across the synagogue's doors, every Jewish symbol was blotted out with spray paint, and "Rammstein" - the name of a German black metal band frequently associated with neo-Nazi punk youth - was written on the floor alongside a satanic symbol.
Hours after the attack, Petah Tikva police refrained from ascribing the attack to local neo-Nazis. Petah Tikva police chief Lt. Cmdr. Motti Feldman said that police were "checking all the possible angles of the case." He noted that, a few months earlier, a smaller synagogue in the city had also been vandalized. Feldman said that police investigators were not yet certain whether the two incidents were connected but said that police were, in any case, investigating the vandalism as a criminal incident.
It would not be the first such occurrence in Petah Tikva. In 2004, a series of violent attacks against local haredim during Sukkot led to the arrest of three 16-year-olds, who were indicted. Since then, Feldman said, there had been no violent anti-Semitic or anti-haredi attacks.
Anti-Semitism in Israel, experts said in the wake of Thursday's vandalism, is a rising phenomenon, particularly in the Russian immigrant community.
Zalman Gilichenski, the head of a foundation that documents anti-Semitic attacks in Israel, said that such attacks had increased drastically in recent years. In the Russian-language media in Israel, he said, reports of anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by non-Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union against fellow Russian-speaking immigrants appear once every week or two. His organization, Gilichenski says, receives multiple phone calls every week.
"I've met people who said that they never encountered such outgoing anti-Semitism like they have here," Gilichenski said.
The incidents, he said, had changed in character recently. Whereas previous incidents were anti-Semitic in nature, more and more incidents were exhibiting a distinctly neo-Nazi character, he said.
In July 2005, following incidents of non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants who were involved in neo-Nazi activity in Israel, the government blocked a proposal by Shinui MKs to strip individuals engaged in neo-Nazi activities of their citizenship.
Gilichenski said that the seriousness of the phenomenon was neglected by the government and law-enforcement community.
"They'd rather push it under the carpet because it interferes with the policy of aliya, the policy of the Jewish Agency. There is the image of the role of Israel as a refuge for Jews, but if anti-Semitism exists here it negates the raison d'etre for Israel," said Gilichenski, who immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1989.