We're not Nazis, we're punk-anarchists

The teenagers in Petah Tikva's Gan Yehonatan club stress that they are not Nazis.

Haaretz, Israel/March 3, 2007
By Moti Katz

"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

"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.

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.

One group at odds with the Nazi skinheads is the "good" skinheads, as the youngsters call them. The good skinheads are not Nazis or Jew haters - "they are radical right wing Islamophobes who believe in the working class," a youth says.

There are many shaven heads among the good skinheads, 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.

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.

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