Neturei Karta – anti-Zionist orthodox Jews

Posted: February 22, 2009 in society
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ap_orthodox_gaza_protest_090107_ssvIt sounds like a contradiction in terms, but while Zionism does have the support of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish religious and secular community (with nearly full support from Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements), there are indeed a number of religious groups who are strictly anti-Zionist: they do not support the existence of the State of Israel with some of them even actively working on its dismantling.

One of these anti-Zionist groups is the Neturei Karta, also self-identifying by the English name Jews United Against Zionism. Neturei Karta stresses that the Jewish people went into exile from the Land of Israel because of their sins, and the group maintains the view – basing it on the Babylonian Talmud – that any form of forceful recapture of the Land of Israel is a violation of divine will. They believe that the restoration of the Land of Israel to the Jews should only happen with the coming of the Messiah, not by self-determination. Any human attempt to establish Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel therefore is sinful, which makes Zionism a presumptuous affront against God.

Reading the Wikipedia entries on the Neturei Karta or anti-Zionism is a bewildering experience; the number of sects and sub-sects is as dizzying as the differences between their beliefs. Using a radically simplifying analysis one could say that the Neteurei Karta is split into radical and moderate factions. Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, a leader of the smaller and more radical group, has endorsed Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization and later, the Palestinian Authority as the rightful rulers of the Land of Israel, which includes the modern-day State of Israel. Moshe Hirsch even served in Yasser Arafat’s cabinet as Minister for Jewish Affairs. Other Jewish groups, including anti-Zionist ones as well as the moderate Neteuri Karta faction, have criticized this alignment, describing it as condoning or even abetting Palestinian political violence or using Palestinians as a tool for the destruction of Israel.

The links between the radical faction and Palestinian politics though are not the only source of friction between the radical Neteurei Karta faction and its moderates (and of course the rest of the Jewish community, especially its Zionist majority). Several of its members for example had visited Iran in 2006 to participate in the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, which caused an enormous controversy and even calls for the Jewish equivalent of excommunication.

However, what should be noted positively is that the whole of Neteuri Karta as well as other orthodox and moderate Jewish groups take a strong anti-Zionist stand and therefore condemn not just Israel’s brutal and decade-long actions against Palestinians but also question what seems to be common wisdom nowadays: that Israel as a state has some god-given right to exist. It would be too simplistic to argue that the State of Israel should be dismantled and its land given back to its original inhabitants (primarily Palestinians).  Questioning the legality and certainly the moral justification for its establishment though might at least lead to something like the demand that Israel should earn the right to exist rather than just alleging and affirming it. That only can happen through a collective Israeli rejection of its violent past and actions, and a demonstrated beginning of peaceful coexistence with all people in and outside its borders. Zionist Israel could learn a lot in this respect from a country it still likes to point its finger at: Germany. The vast majority of Israelis though have just delivered proof that they are further removed from peaceful solutions than ever and instead addicted to regional domination and practices bordering on Holocaust.

[Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo showing orthodox Jews from the Naturei Karta group on Jan. 7, 2009 chant slogans as they march through the streets of Jerusalem’s Mea Sharim Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, calling for an end to Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip]
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