Avirama Golan
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 19, 2008 - 7:32pm

The television interview conducted by Orly Vilnai Federbush on Monday with Dmitri Bogotich - the head of a local "neo-Nazi gang," who later fled to Moscow - constituted good journalism under conditions of real risk. But more than the conversation revealed a violent criminal, it revealed the authorities' weakness in dealing with the case.

Bogotich, the guiding spirit behind a series of violent assaults on anyone who he considered insufficiently white or insufficiently Jewish, easily evaded the police, and now he is studying law in Moscow. Vilnai admittedly urged him to return and serve his sentence, but one can safely assume that he will not. His romance with Israel ended in a miserable absorption, military service, a violent sowing of wild oats, and flight.

Yet both Vilnai's report, aired on television's Uvda ("Fact") program, and the media and public responses to the affair, leave a disturbing impression of an evasion of responsibility. Bogotich provided Israeli society with the perfect alibi. Racist? Us? What are you talking about? "They," the "Russians" - who brought primitive norms of violence and racist hatred with them, against the background of what happened "over there" - are the racists.

The discovery of the neo-Nazi organization "proved" what many people thought in any case: that all the problems of drunkenness, violence and racism, which are ostensibly new to Israel, stem from the Russian immigration of the last several years.

This immigration, which began in the early 1990s, has been described by both veteran Israelis and Russian immigrants from the 1970s in extremely racist terms, primarily because, based on the ethnocentric definitions of the religious establishment, many of this latest wave of immigrants are not Jewish.

"Half a million non-Jews have immigrated to Israel," cried the rabbis and the religious activists, including one former interior minister. They thereby determined the image of an entire population group. Hundreds of thousands of people have been described in their identity cards as "without nationality" or "Christian," and the moment they set foot here, they are defined as second-class, even if they serve in the army, study, work and invent a cure for cancer - and even if they are killed in a terror attack or in combat.

Racism, according to French historian Raymond Aron, is the poor man's snobbery. One could also add newcomers, and especially young ones, to his definition: They yearn to belong, and are deeply hurt by rejection. Educators involved in absorbing youth from the former Soviet Union (first and foremost Dr. Chaim Peri of the Yemin Orde boarding school) warned years ago that exclusion, especially on a cultural-national basis, would cause an upheaval whose results would be catastrophic.

And indeed, the humiliation of the newcomers created a vicious cycle that Bogotich exemplifies: Out of a desire to be more Israeli and more Jewish than anyone else, he enlisted in the "Jewish army," guarded facilities in the territories, and then, equipped with an Israel Defense Forces rifle, threatened and murderously beat homeless people, "dirty blacks" and "some gay guy." Arabs, in his eyes, deserve death.

How convenient it is to shift the stain of racism to Bogotich and his friends, to ignore the fact that the exclusion that humiliated them is one of the factors behind their racist outbursts, and, even worse, to pretend that these outbursts sprung from foreign wells, when their source in fact lies in the deep strain of racism and violence in Israel.

A report that the Mossawa Center is publishing today documents dozens of anti-Arab statements by Jewish politicians ("they're like worms," said former Likud MK Yehiel Hazan); killings of 41 Arab citizens that have never been properly investigated; gross discrimination against Arabs in work and housing; racist legislation by the Knesset; and a public discourse that grants legitimacy to lunatic ideas such as population transfers and collective punishment, and, while denying the ongoing Israelization of our Arab citizens, nurtures racist paranoia.

As long as Israeli citizens acquiesce in the existence of the outrageous "nationality" clause in their identity cards, or to legislation that discriminates against Arabs, or to the humiliating inspections that began at the airports and have since spread to every public institution; as long as no one demonstrates whenever a Knesset member curses Arabs; and as long as the number of people who rent apartments to or hire Arabs can be counted on one hand, Israel society cannot be absolved of the sin of racism.

But this sin is doubled and redoubled when society gives immigrants, who yearn to belong, power and weapons, and then - when, angry and humiliated, they use them for racist abuse - turns its eyes away from them and sanctimoniously dons the face of a model liberal society.


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