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WHEN THE TV news starts with a murder, people are relieved.
This means that no war has broken out, no suicide bomb has exploded, no Qassam rocket has been launched at Sderot. Ahmadinejad has not test-fired a new missile that can reach Tel Aviv. Just another murder.
Not that Israel is the world’s murder capital. We shall have to work much harder to reach the heights of New York or Moscow, not to mention Johannesburg. Statistics even show our murder rate is declining.
But lately Israel has been shocked by a series of exceptionally brutal murders. A husband took revenge on his wife by killing his little daughter and burying her in a forest. A man who lived with the wife of his son killed her daughter, his own granddaughter, put her little body in a suitcase and threw it into Tel Aviv’s Yarkon river. A son who quarreled with his wife killed her and her mother, cut up both bodies and dispersed the parts in garbage bins. A young man who had a quarrel with his mother killed her, and then went off to kill his brother, too. A man in his 70s killed his wife in her sleep with a hammer.
In recent weeks, there were two cases that trumped even these atrocities.
Damian Karlik, an immigrant from Russia who worked as head waiter in a Russian restaurant, was dismissed for theft and decided to take revenge on the owners, Russian immigrants like him. He went to their apartment and stabbed to death six people, one after another – the owner and his wife, their son and his wife and their two small grandchildren.
An immigrant from the US called Jack Teitel, an inhabitant of one of the most extreme West Bank settlements, has now confessed to the killing some years ago of two random Palestinians. He returned briefly to America, and, after coming back, put bombs into police cars. Why? Because the police were protecting gays and lesbians. He is also suspected of killing two traffic policemen for the same reason. He also claimed responsibility for the mass killing of gays in a Tel Aviv club (though that may be empty bragging). He planted a bomb in the home of some Messianic Jews (Jews who regard Jesus as the Messiah) and grievously injured a 15-year-old. He tried to kill the leftist professor Ze’ev Sternhell with another bomb which wounded him.
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WHAT IS so special about these two cases is that they involved new immigrants who were allowed into Israel in spite of already being under investigation for crimes in their homelands.
The Law of Return accords every Jew the right to immigrate (“make Aliyah”) to Israel, where he or she automatically receives Israeli citizenship on arrival. But even according to this law, the Minister of the Interior can reject people suspected of serious crimes.
This makes the case of Karlik especially interesting. He was suspected in Russia of armed robbery, but the organization in charge of issuing Israeli immigration permits in Russia asserts that they did not know about it.
This organization, Nativ (“path”), was active in the Soviet Union as one of the Israeli secret services, like the Mossad and Shin Bet. Its particular job was to infiltrate Jewish communities and induce Jews to come to Israel.
Apart from this, Nativ was also engaged, of course, in espionage. It is no secret that for decades immigrants arriving from the Soviet Union were interrogated exhaustively by the Shin Bet about military, economic and other installations in their former homeland. The precious information thus gathered ensured Israel a high standing in the Western intelligence community.
After the collapse of the Communist regime, Nativ was to be disbanded, but like every threatened organization it fought for its life. It was decided to leave it intact and put it in charge of immigration to Israel from all the former Soviet republics. They now have to make sure that immigrants are kosher Jews according to religious law.
The religious credentials of the immigrants interest Nativ much more than any criminal record they may have. It seems Nativ has no contacts with the Russian police, who probably suspect it of other activities.
Thus it happens that a person like Karlik, a man under investigation for robbery with violence, was found suitable for immigration. His ethnic pedigree was impeccable. After his arrival in Israel, the Russian authorities officially applied for his extradition for robbery, but the request was denied. The escaped robber was issued a license for a gun and allowed to work as a guard.
Teitel’s case is similar. True, in the US there is no Nativ, but the logic of those in charge of emigration to Israel is the same: to bring immigrants without asking unnecessary questions. According to religious law, a Jew remains a Jew even if he sins.
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THESE AFFAIRS shine a spotlight on one of the guiding principles of the Zionist establishment: to bring Jews to Israel, whatever the price. Statistics must show that this year – or any other year – a record number of Jews have “made Aliyah”. In many communities, the bottom of the barrel is scraped in order to bring more Jews. Emissaries find “lost tribes” of Jews in Peru and Ethiopia, India and China.
In this situation, there is an understandable temptation to overlook the criminal past of would-be immigrants. So what if somebody, a kosher Jew, has robbed a bank or mistreated children? In Israel he will perhaps mend his ways. Or if somebody was put on trial abroad for illegal arms deals, money laundering and/or selling blood-stained diamonds – he is welcome, and if he brings his millions with him, the leaders of the state will be happy to be photographed in his company.
That is true, of course, only for an immigrant who is a Jew according to the Halakha (religious law). If he is a Goy, the story is quite different. That is the province of the leader of the Shas party, Eli Yishai.
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IN THE present Israeli government there are several candidates for the title of Racist in Chief. An objective jury would be hard put to choose between them.
The favorite is the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, a certified racist whose entire career in Israel is built on hatred towards Arabs and foreigners. It was he who appointed as Minister of Justice the kippa-wearing lawyer Ya’akov Ne’eman, who is now busily engaged in securing the all-important position of Legal Advisor to the Government (practically the Attorney General) for a judge educated in a Yeshiva (Orthodox school), who lives in one of the more extreme settlements and who has become notorious for several rightist judgments. Binyamin Netanyahu himself, of course, is also an excellent candidate.
But the King of Racists is the Minister of the Interior. He is more dangerous than his colleagues because he has absolute power over the civil status of every person in Israel, immigration and emigration, the Register of Residents and the expulsion of foreigners. In this position he is now doing to foreigners what others have done to Jews in many countries. He is untiring in his efforts to guard the real Israel – not the “Jewish and democratic state” as it is officially defined, but rather the “Jewish and demographic state”. For this purpose he has recently created a special para-police force for the detection and deportation of illegal foreigners.
It is difficult to decide whether Yishai is an extreme fanatic or a complete cynic, or some strange combination. As matter of fact, when Shas was still a moderate party, in those distant days when its guru, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that it is permissible to give back the occupied territories, and its former leader, Aryeh Deri, was the darling of the left, Yishai, too, declared “Yes to Oslo, Yes to the evacuation of Jews from Hebron, Yes to Arafat!” But since then much dirty water has flowed down our polluted rivers, Shas has turned into a radical right-wing party and Yishai is now the most extreme rightist in the government.
His unshakable devotion to the purity of the race arouses admiration. Hardly a day passes without some shocking news about his activites. He fights like a tiger for the expulsion of 1500 children of foreign workers who were born in Israel, who speak Hebrew and attend Israeli schools, who have no other homeland. Yishai is ready to lay down his life for their deportation.
The Interior Ministry prevents the entry of American and European citizens who bear Arab names. Officials of the UN and the EU in charge of projects for the Palestinians are normally unable to enter from Jordan (or anywhere else outside Israel), and if they somehow do obtain permission – they are then forbidden to cross the Green Line into Israel. Foreign women married to Israelis are expelled without mercy. There is no end to the examples.
In the eyes of Yishai, every son of a Thai is an enemy of the Jewish state, every daughter of a Colombian worker is a threat to the purity of the Jewish people. He has declared that the foreign workers are an “infection”, and warned that Tel Aviv is “becoming Africa”. He has disclosed that the foreigners carry frightening diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis and such. (And in this respect they resemble gays and lesbians, who, according to Yishai, are “sick people”.
Such a person would not remain a minister in the cabinet of the US or most European countries. In the homeland of the Nuremberg laws he would not even come close to a government position.
Recently, during the operation “Cast Lead”, Yishai demanded that we “bomb thousands of houses, to destroy Gaza” – which does not hinder him from denouncing Judge Richard Goldstone as an abominable anti-Semite. He himself, by the way, never risked his skin as a combat soldier – this national hero served as an NCO for religious services in a transport unit.
800 years ago, Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nahman, called Nahmanides, coined the phrase “Scoundrel with the permission of the Torah” – meaning a person who does despicable things which are not expressly forbidden in the Bible. I am not sure if even this appellation would fit Yishai, since the Bible forbids more than once the mistreatment of strangers – “Ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless and the widow” (Jer. 7:6), “He…loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment” (Deut. 10:18) and many other commandments to this effect.
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BUT More important than Yishai himself is the phenomenon that he represents: the invocation of the demographic demon, which terrifies the country.
62 years after its foundation, the State of Israel is still living in fear of the “demographic danger”. It is afraid of its Arab citizens, and therefore discriminates against them in every sphere. It is afraid of the 400 thousand Russians who have come to this country with their Jewish relatives in accordance with the Law of Return, but whose mothers were not Jewish. Here is a built-in contradiction: while the Nativ operators are interested in maximizing the number of immigrants, Yishai and his people deny these very same immigrants the right to marry Jews or to be buried in Jewish graveyards. They serve in the army, but if they fall in action they cannot be buried next to their comrades.
Practically all Hebrew Israelis want a state with a Hebrew majority, where the Hebrew language, culture and tradition are cultivated. But many of us do not want a man-hunting, woman-hunting and child-hunting state, closed to asylum-seekers, where foreign workers who outstay their welcome must live in permanent fear, like our ancestors in the ghettoes.
In order to exorcise the demographic demon, my friends and I have applied to the courts and requested that the registration “Nation: Jewish” in the Ministry’s Register of Residents be replaced with “Nation: Israeli”. Our application was rejected by Judge Noam Solberg – the very same person the Minister of Justice is moving mountains to get appointed as Attorney General.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.