[Update : April 2, 2007: Gabriel Kolko, commenting on the state of the State of Israel (‘Israel’s Last Chance’, Counterpunch, March 30, 2007) writes “Some indications of these trends [ie, “profound divisions” in Israeli society] range from the banal to the tragic. In Petah Tikva the abandoned Hashomer Hatzair office has been given to about 150 punks, “anarchists,” who originate in what was the USSR; there is also a club of punks [sic] that calls itself Nazi — “boneheads” in skinhead parlance — and paints swastikas on synagogues. Both dislike the ultra-Orthodox and like the same music.” Well, kinda. ‘Boneheads’ are racist ‘skinheads’; the political status of the punks who congregate at the club is unknown to me; both the ‘anarchist punks’ and the boneheads probably “dislike” the Ultra-Orthodox, albeit for somewhat different reasons; it’s highly unlikely that the punks and the boneheads listen to the same music — at least in the sense that, while boneheads are often happy to listen to bands which despise them (cf. David Innes), few if any punks worthy of the name enjoy listening to White Power muzak.]
Neo-Nazis? In Israel?!? Well, maybe not… In an attempt to account for a number of anti-Semitic incidents in Israel over the last few years, suspicion has centred on Russian immigrants, especially yoof. And it appears that, as in Russia, some at least — flailing around for an oppositional form of identity, and living in a society characterised, like many others, by religious conflict and ethnic discrimination, often hostile or indifferent to their presence — have collapsed into fascism. And despite a long and bloody history of struggle by anarchists against fascism — from Italy, to Spain, to Germany, to contemporary Russia — and a shorter (since the 70s) and less bloody struggle by skinheads against neo-Nazi infiltration of their sub-culture, some still just don’t get it. In Melbourne, this includes the supporters of neo-Nazi venue The Birmingham Hotel, which will host a “punk” fashion show this Friday, starring The Blurters, Charter 77, PBG and Slick 46.
They’re not working class punks; they’re scabs.
“…Don’t listen to all the shit about splits and politics, the Boneheads go on about it because they know how we drove them underground and reclaimed Skinhead culture for true Skinheads. The non-politicals go on [and on and on] about it because it’s easier than taking on the scum. I’ve been a Skinhead since 1969 and I know what it’s meant since day one.” — Roddy Moreno, The Oppressed
We’re not Nazis, we’re punk-anarchists
February 28, 2007
The teenagers in Petah Tikva’s Gan Yehonatan club stress that they are not Nazis.
“We’re punks!” they say.
“People think all new immigrants are anti-Semites. That’s not true at all,” one of the teenagers says, referring to anti-Semitic incidents in town, like last year’s desecration of a large synagogue.
“We don’t like the ultra-Orthodox but we wouldn’t paint swastikas on synagogues either,” he says.
Some 150 young immigrants from the former Soviet Union frequent the Gan Yehonatan club in the afternoons. The purpose of the club is to keep the youths from drinking and hanging out in parks.
The boys admit uncomfortably that they are familiar with the Nazi-Russian youth in Petah Tikva.
“There are groups of neo-Nazis – not here at the club, though. They exist in every town in the country,” says one youth.
Some of the youths regard Israelis with anger and distrust. They are a close-knit group, but complain that Israelis treat them with contempt and see them as stereotypes. Most of all, they say they don’t belong. The reports of vandalism and attacks on ultra-Orthodox residents have intensified this feeling.
When asked what they know of Nazi and anti-Semitic groups, they act embarrassed. Gradually, however, they open up and talk about the “Nazi skinheads” and terror they impose on other groups.
‘Good’ and ‘bad’ skinheads [Skinheads vs. Boneheads]
“You must distinguish between two groups of skinheads,” one says. “There are good skinheads and Nazi skinheads, called boneheads.” (Nazi skinheads are often called boneheads by traditionalist skinheads and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.)
“The boneheads shave their heads and wear white suspenders with jeans or military trousers, sometimes with a white collar,” one boy says. Most of them are over 18 years old, some even serve in the military, and they advocate typical Nazi ideology, based on hatred of Jews and Israelis, he says.
“A few months ago, the boneheads held a ceremony to mark Hitler’s birthday in one of the cemeteries,” a boy says.
[A few years ago (2002), Melbourne boneheads held a celebration to mark Hitler’s birthday in a Melbourne pub… Can you guess which one? Earlier, in 1990, the bonehead Dane Sweetman celebrated the occasion by murdering fellow bonehead David Noble.]
Irena, 18, from the central region, has spent some time with the Nazi boneheads.
“I was a skingirl – that’s what you call the Nazi skinheads’ girls,” she says.
Irena’s boyfriend was the group leader, dubbed the “Fuhrer.”
“We were a bunch of immigrant Russian boys and girls, and we had a certain dress code. The boys usually shaved their heads and wore military pants.
“On weekends we’d meet in parks, where we’d drink and smoke and listen to Nazi music. Nazi music isn’t Rammstein [a German band that incorporates elements of metal/hard rock, industrial metal and electronic music],” she says with a smile. Some evenings fights would break out between her group and others who met in the parks. Irena’s boyfriend, the Fuhrer, was involved in fighting among the groups.
[Irena the ex-bonehead also features in a previous article by Katz: ‘Israelis run anti-Jewish Web sites’, Ha’aretz, February 25, 2007.]
…There are many shaven heads among the good skinheads [duh!], who wear jeans, sometimes bleach-stained, red suspenders and red laces on their military boots. One boy says that he was beaten up once by the Nazi skinheads for wearing red suspenders. “The red symbolizes Communism to them, and the Communists defeated the Nazis,” he says.
Most of the youths in Gan Yehonatan categorize themselves as punk-anarchists. “We, the punks, usually wear tight black trousers and various Mohawk hair styles,” he says. “We also have metalists, who listen to heavy metal music, wear lots of earrings and rivets, army boots and are into piercing.”
Some of them are convinced that the boneheads desecrated the big synagogue and tried to frame the punks.
After school, in the afternoons, the Gan Yehonatan group walks along the gravel path leading to the club in Petah Tikva. Several girls, some dressed in black, greet each other politely. Boys with thuggish expressions chain smoke and converse among themselves in Russian, dotted with Hebrew phrases.
The club provides the teenagers with activities to help them deal with their difficulties in creative ways. At least seven punk and rock bands have come out of the club, as well as a breakdance group. The club also has a music room, a carpentry workshop and a basketball court.
After the lights go out
Gan Yehonatan opened about three years ago, after a municipal committee headed by Nurit Tibi, director of the Beit Hila educational center, discovered that drinking and violence were prevalent among immigrant CSI youth. The committee decided to open a club in an old rundown building belonging to the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, opposite the town’s Yad Lebanim park.
…Statistics from the Ministry of Absorption show that more than 37,500 immigrants from former Soviet countries moved to Petah Tikva between January of 1989, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and December of 2005 — slightly more than 20 per cent of the city’s current population.
While many of those immigrants settled and thrived, others have had trouble adapting to the culture and learning Hebrew, leaving former professionals unemployed or taking menial jobs to get by, and their children uprooted and confused.
Some of those have ended up at Petah Tikva’s Youth Consultation Centre, an outreach and treatment centre, where criminologist Nurit Tibi says she treats several young Russian-speaking youth who’ve been in trouble with the law for assaulting ultra-Orthodox Jews or throwing stones at synagogues.
“I see what happened in the Great Synagogue as something very extreme and very difficult. But I also see it as part of a wider problem of identity crisis,” she said.
While many of these immigrants qualified to move to Israel because of a Jewish grandparent, after a lifetime in an environment where religion was actively discouraged, they are today either secular Jews or do not consider themselves Jewish at all — leaving the next generation struggling to figure out where they belong in a Jewish state.
With anti-Semitism gaining ground in Russia, Russian-speaking teens here may find the acceptance they seek by imitating what they see on Russian-language websites and videos.
“They copy it from somewhere. And here they don’t belong to anybody,” Ms. Tibi said.
One of her clients — a young man from a broken home, who does not qualify for citizenship because his parents are not themselves Jewish — served eight months in prison for assaulting religious Jews. “But when you meet him, you find a confused adolescent who hasn’t found where he belongs. What is he? Is he a Jew? Is he Christian? Is he Israeli? What is he?
“These symbols are the country, for them. This is the way to fight the government — that’s how they see the State of Israel.”
— From Russia With Hate, Carolynne Wheeler, The Globe and Mail, May 17, 2006
It wasn’t easy to reach the CSI youth, says youth activity coordinator Bella Alexandrov. But gradually they started coming and infused life into the place.
In the late evening hours, the lights go out at Gan Yehonatan. Only two girls remain with Alexandrov to confide their problems. The rest of the group, equipped with cigarettes and booze, drift off into the dark corners of the park.
Alexandrov looks at them sadly as they disappear. She hopes this evening will end without any violent incidents, and that tomorrow they will come back “home.”
“Because this is the only place that could possibly constitute a home for them,” she says.