This is a guest post by Malachi
Of all the ‘as a Jew’ anti-zionist groups it’s Neturei Karta which attracts the greatest attention. Whether it’s a Holocaust revisionist seminar in Tehran or an anti-Israel demonstration in Kensington no display of visceral hatred of Israel is complete without a handful of men dressed in traditional Haredi dress playing a prominent role in its proceedings, often expressing the most offensive comments.
Neturei Karta are naturally seized upon by some liberal and left anti-zionists as evidence of the distinction between antisemitism and anti-zionism – how can one be anti -semitic when one has ‘rabbis’ on one’s side? Of course the fact that they are happy to hang out at Iranian Holocaust revisionism seminars with the likes of David Duke, even giving the President of Iran a big kiss, is glossed over. Beyond the excellent photo op they inevitably provide there is a wilfull attempt to conflate what is a very small and very peculiar sect with the wider Haredi community or communities of Jews. If the truth be known Neturei Karta are a marginal sect as much alienated from the Haredi world as the wider Jewish world.
Whilst most Haredim are theologically anti-zionist this does not mean they are against the State of Israel or indeed against a particular military or foreign policy of the state and it’s this that often creates the greatest confusion. At a recent meeting of Haredi rabbis and Muslim community leaders in London the former were asked to sign a statement condemning in harsh terms Israeli actions in Gaza. It was assumed that the Haredi rabbis would have no difficulty with this as they are ‘anti-zionist’. Needless to say they couldn’t sign the statement.
It’s worth giving a bit of background to explain this.
In the context of Israeli society the Haredi world is split into two (and for these purposes I’m only dealing with those of the predominantly Ashkenazi tradition – i.e. of Eastern European in origin). The larger part of the Haredi world actively engages with the activities of the Israeli state, participating in its governments, paying taxes and in some albeit fairly exceptional instances serving in the army. This follows the establishment of the state in 1948 and the agreement of the ’status quo’ between David Ben Gurion and the Haredi leader the Chazon Ish.
A minority belongs to the Eidah Haredis. This is a group of communities which did not accept the status quo and refuses to engage with the Israeli state and so for example forbids voting in elections and accepting of funds from the state. Amongst the groups which comprise the Eidah Charedis are the Satmar Chasidim – globally the largest Chasidic group, often confused very mistakenly with Neturei Karta.
Nevertheless it would be wrong to conflate the Eidah Charedis with Neturei Karta. The former perceive themselves to be part of “Klal Yisroel” – part of the family of Israel – it would be an anathema for them to side with those with emnity to Jews – the Iranian regime, Hamas or Hezbollah. It is for this reason that the late Satmar Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum always refused to meet with Yasser Arafat, a man he considered had Jewish blood on his hands. For them their theological differences over Zionism were a family affair even if often played out in extreme language.
Following the Tehran Holocaust seminar the members of Neturei Karta were “put into Harem” (excommunication) throughout the Haredi world and especially by Satmar.
During the war in Lebanon the leaders of the Eidah Charedis instructed their followers to cancel their holidays (the war was during the traditional holiday period of the yeshivot) and to continue their studies and say tehillim or psalms for the well being of the Israeli soldiers.
A further and more recent example of this are two articles published in the Haredi newspaper Hamodia giving the substance of two sermons by Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, head of the Eidah Charedis in Jerusalem focusing on what he describes as certain ‘miracles’ of the present conflict in Gaza which leaves his position in little doubt. Without a grounding in Jewish theology the articles may be difficult to follow and his language clearly won’t be to the taste of HP contributors or readers but it’s the light that he shines on the Haredi world which is important.
The conflation of Neturei Karta with the wider Haredi world is just another big lie amongst many which bedevil this conflict.