- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

TEL AVIV — The exposure of an underground group of Israeli neo-Nazis that attacked religious Jews and foreign workers has spurred a call to tighten rules on who is eligible for automatic citizenship based on a Jewish ancestry.

Effie Eitam, a parliament member of the National Union Party, said the legislature should amend Israel’s “Law of Return” to prevent gentiles from becoming citizens.

The immigration law offers Israeli citizenship to anyone with a single Jewish grandparent, regardless of whether they have any cultural or religious connection to Judaism.

About one-fourth of the 1.2 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel over the past two decades fall into the category of having a single ethnically Jewish grandparent, according to Israel’s immigration and absorption ministry.

“In recent years, because of the breach in the Law of Return, Israel has become a country of refuge for people for whom hatred of the Jewish people and hatred of Zionism burns in their hearts,” Mr. Eitam said.

“The situation today enables the unregulated immigration of people who have no affinity with the Jewish people and the state of Israel,” he said.

Under Jewish religious law, a Jew is defined as someone born of a Jewish mother or one who converts.

The Law of Return, however, was passed by the Israeli legislature soon after Israel’s creation to offer refuge to Jews fleeing persecution after the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

The grandparent-centered eligibility requirement was included in response to the Nazi regime, which condemned to death anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent.

Public anxiety this week over the germination of a violent neo-Nazi cell under the nose of police in the central Israel city of Petach Tikvah reflects the fallout from the absorption of one of Israel’s largest immigrant groups.

Many immigrants never integrate into mainstream Israel, especially those who aren’t considered Jews under religious law.

Nahum Taub, who was attacked outside the Great Synagogue in Petach Tikvah by skinheads two months ago, blamed Israel’s government for granting citizenship to “goyim,” the Yiddish word for gentiles. “They opened up pork stores here. That’s where they all hold their meetings,” he said.

On Sunday, Israeli police said they had arrested eight members of a neo-Nazi gang, ages 16 to 21. All immigrants from the former Soviet Union, they are accused of attacks on foreigners and religious Jews.

Zalman Gilichenski, who monitors anti-Semitism in Israel on his Web site (https://pogrom.org.il), said Israeli authorities have mostly ignored the sensibilities of the non-Jewish Russians who came to Israel in search of economic stability in the 1990s.

“They need to change the immigration policy. They are letting people who have no connections to the Jewish people become citizens,” he said.

Mr. Gilichenski said the phenomenon of neo-Nazism has been ignored by the government because it undermines Israel’s image as a shelter for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism.

While neo-Nazi activity is illegal in Germany and other European countries, there is no Israeli law on the books that defines it as criminal.

This week, however, several Israeli politicians, including Interior Minister Meir Shitreet, said that Israel should consider stripping those involved in neo-Nazi groups of their Israeli citizenship.

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