The Interior Ministry said Sunday that it would consider revoking the citizenship of eight teens suspected of running a neo-Nazi cell in Petah Tikva, if they are convicted.
The suspects, aged 17 to 19, confessed to assaulting dozens of people, mainly foreign workers around Tel Aviv's central bus station and Carmel market, causing many of them serious injury. The eight were arrested a month ago, and a gag order on the arrest was lifted Saturday.
According to police, the neo-Nazi cell comprised individuals who have distant ties to Judaism and nonetheless immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union under the Law of Return, which grants all Jews the right to immigrate.
Army Radio reported Sunday that Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit instructed the ministry to look into the legal aspects of such a procedure. The law allows the state to strip the citizenship of anyone involved in an act against the state.
The Ramle Magistrate's Court extended the remand of seven of the eight suspects on Sunday. The State Prosecution is expected to submit indictments against the seven to the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that the neo-Nazi cell is an isolated incident, to be dealt with by the police and the justice system, and not a widespread phenomenon that requires a blanket solution.
"Let's not incriminate an entire population and fall into the trap of generalizations. There is no need at this time to look for solutions that would affect entire populations," the statement said.
Olmert explained that the suspicions against these teens "indicate that we, as a society, have failed in educating these youths and keeping them away from dangerous and crazy ideologies." He called for harsh punishment in order to deter teens from participating in neo-Nazi activity.
Absorption Minister Ya'akov Edri stressed that this is a marginal phenomenon that doesn't in any way characterize the immigrant youth in Israel. "Most of the immigrant youth is normative and fully incorporated into all aspects of life in this country. Today there are thousands of [immigrant] youths who serve in the army and contribute to the strength of Israel," Edri said. "We mustn't stigmatize an entire group."
Earlier Sunday, MKs from across the political spectrum condemned the incident, and some suggested that the Law of return be amended in order to prevent similar individuals from immigrating.
MK Effi Eitam (National Religious Party - Ehud Leumi) stated he will propose a bill that would alter the Law of Return. The Law of Return ensures that any person who has at least one Jewish grandparent can immigrate to Israel and attain citizenship.
Eitam stated that Israel has become "a haven for people who hate Israel, hate Jews, and exploit the Law of Return to act on this hatred."
MK Ahmed Tibi of Ra'am Ta'al called on authorities to deal harshly with the cell, saying that it represents a "ludicrous and outrageous phenomenon, where people immigrated to Israel and received automatic citizenship under the Law of Return, while citizens of Nazareth and Taibe are not allowed to visit their own relatives merely due to the fact that they are Arabs."
NRP Chairman Zevulun Orlev recommended the Knesset pass a law that would allow the deportation and revocation of citizenship for people found to be neo-Nazis. Orlev stated that the group's violent attacks "are shocking, and must be dealt with harshly," adding that Israel must set an example to the world in how to deal with anti-Semitism.
Police have seized 5 kilograms of explosives, a pistol, and an M-16 assault rifle belonging to the group of neo-Nazi youths. Police believe the group intended to use the weapons against punk rockers in the city, with whom they often clash violently.
Six of the eight suspects have confessed to the charges against them, while two reported ringleaders of the group have professed their innocence. One of the reported leaders Eli Boanitov was quoted by police as saying, "I won't ever give up, I was a Nazi and I will stay a Nazi, until we kill them all I will not rest."
Police confirmed that the majority of the suspects were enrolled in Israeli public schools, and at least one was drafted into the army. Police suspect that the youth who was drafted fled the country after giving his army-issue M-16 to a member of the cell.
Police uncovered the cell a year ago, while investigating vandalism at the main synagogue in Petah Tikva, where neo-Nazis sprayed swastikas and Adolf Hitler's name on walls and prayer books. Computers seized from two suspects arrested in that case led police to dozens of video files documenting brutal assaults on foreign workers.
Superintendent Revital Almog, who was in charge of the investigation, said that the police learned that a "neo-Nazi cell was being operated in Israel by people living in Israel but believing in Nazi ideology and in Hitler."
"We discovered that besides their meetings, at which they praised Nazi ideology, they used to go out to Tel Aviv in a group to perpetrate racist attacks," Almog continued.
Almog said that the teens would deliberately select victims who they deemed too weak to complain. Most of them were foreign workers who the teenagers would attack, telling them that because they were not white, they would be harmed.
One video shows some of the teens surrounding a young Russian heroin addict, who admits he is Jewish. Later they order him to get down on his knees and beg forgiveness from the Russian people for being Jewish and a junky. They beat him mercilessly, along with another man who comes to his aid.
The group was also reportedly planning to celebrate Hitler's birthday at Yad Vashem.
More than 20 people who were in touch with the suspects, mostly via the Internet, were questioned throughout the investigation. Their parents were also questioned, and said they knew nothing of their children's activities.
Among those questioned was Rostislav Bogoslavski, who was arrested several months ago on suspicion of killing two people and hundreds of cats in Petah Tikva. Police believe Bogoslavski cooperated with two of the cell members in some acts of vandalism in the city.
The Anti-Defamation League responded to the arrests by urging that the group not be used as a stereotype for Russian immigrants in Israel, and saying that such cases were marginal.
In a statement, the group said neo-Nazi behavior was a problem arising from the difficulties faced by immigrants, adding "The youth are angry at Israelis for holding them in contempt and lash out with hatred."
The ADL clarified that while the detainees were from the former Soviet Union and religiously identified as Christians, they had immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return which grants "even grandchildren of Jews sanctuary in the Jewish state."
"The tragic irony in this is that they would have been chosen for annihilation by the Nazi they strive to emulate," the statement said.