It’s not often you encounter a Rabbi with a Palestinian flag pinned to their jacket. But then Neturei Karta are anything but conventional.
They are a religious group of Haredi Jews whose name in Aramaic means ‘Protectors of the City’. The city in question is Jerusalem and the group is founded on their refusal to accept or recognise the state of Israel. Confused?
One of their main figures, Rabbi Weiss, explained their position to RT. He said, “Zionism is the transformation of Judaism, from religion, from subservience to God, into a material concept of nationalism. This is unacceptable to the ones who want to serve God. In order to create this nationalism, they are removing God from the equation.
“We were warned by the prophets that we would be expelled from the land and that happened with the destruction of the temple [in Jerusalem] 2,000 years ago. We were not to return in mass – it’s a godly decreed exile – and we’re also not to rebel against any nation we reside in. We are to be loyal citizens and pray for the well-being of the land that is our hosts. We also should never make any attempt to end exile.”
For those unfamiliar with the Torah – the central part of the Jewish bible – these sentiments may be fairly revolutionary. Neturei Karta believe they are following their holy book, and that leaving Palestine was an act of God. They also think their religion commands them to publicly protest against what they deem transgressions in the name of Judaism. They particularly want to make people understand there is a fundamental difference between an Israeli and a Jew.
Rabbi Weiss continued, “[Zionists’] goal was to have their material state, and whatever stood in their way didn’t bother them. The Torah says thou shall not steal’ so every concept of Zionism is breaching the Torah. They knew our religion does not call for us to take up arms and take over the land. On the contrary, we are forbidden.”
Israel was formed in 1948 and the following year was admitted into the United Nations. There’s a widely accepted narrative of how Israeli forces seized the land and property of the Palestinians, who were mostly Muslim. This was all done under the premise of creating “a national home for the Jewish people” and the British government had set this in motion during World War I with the Balfour Declaration.
Israel is now a modern country with a formidable army and successful technology industry. However, the way the state has treated the Palestinian people, who have been annexed into Gaza and the West Bank with limited rights, has left it open to criticism.
Rabbi Weiss said, “They mooched the Star of David from us and claim to the world they are doing God’s will, that is to intimidate so that anybody who dares to speak up against them is an anti-Semite. It’s ludicrous, and a tragedy, as they don’t represent our Torah. “
Neturei Karta claims to represent Jewish communities and says Israel has created a fake legitimacy. Although Israel has a Chief Rabbi and a Rabbinate, the Jewish faith also has this structure independently. It’s via this religious doctrine that Israel justifies its continued seizing of Palestinian land, which Israeli settlers then live on – and this process is one of the major flashpoints between the two states. It was an attempt to remove Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah that sparked the recent spate of conflict.
“There are, unfortunately, many college students, most from non-religious families or nominally religious, who fall into the trap of Zionist propaganda and speak with emotion by saying ‘for 2,000 years we’ve been in exile, we’ve suffered and God is giving us back the land’. But that’s ignoring what it says in the Torah.Rabbi Weiss added, “The Zionists constantly try to incorporate the Torah into their monster called the state of Israel. They have a Chief Rabbi, a Rabbinate; it’s all window dressing, they rubber stamp whatever Israel does and create an aura of holiness.
“People think to be a hero for Judaism they have to go back to Israel and go to the settlements. We’re not condoning violence, but they are inciting it by throwing out the Arab people like they’re doing now in Sheikh Jarrah. An action beings a reaction; what do you expect? That’s why there is bloodshed.”
But not everyone agrees and there are those who are critical of Neturei Karta’s “willingness to meet with the vilest of extremists.” Group members admit they’ve met the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, both regarded by many countries as terrorist organisations. They’ve also spoken to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Gaza’s de facto ruler Ismail Haniyeh. And they have even shared a platform with the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.
Rabbi Weiss said, “The leadership of Hamas say they have nothing against Jews and want to live together. Both Hamas and Hezbollah want a peaceful dismantlement of the state; we also want that. We understand the core issue is not Hamas, the problem is in 1948 they ratified a monster called the Zionist state of Israel that came and occupied another people. Everything that is happening is only a reaction to this terrible injustice.
“The terrorism is the creation of the state and the ongoing existence of that state, so that every day a child is born in Palestine and they suffer. They see their family members die and they have an ingrained hate for the Jewish people if it’s not clarified to them. It’s being done in our name, with our symbols; the hypocrisy is beyond words.”“Before I start interviews, they ask me do you condemn Hamas? And if not, psychologically they say ‘he is not condemning them, so it’s not worth it to listen to him because he is a terrorist’.”
Another accusation levelled at Neturei Karta is that they are Holocaust deniers. Rabbi Weiss refutes this. He stressed, “My grandparents were killed in Auschwitz as were the majority of my family [on] both sides. My father escaped when the Nazis came to Hungary and almost entirely all of our anti-Zionist communities are immigrant people who are the remnants of families who escaped from Hitler. So, we don’t deny the Holocaust because it’s in our blood.”
According to Rabbi Weiss, part of the complexity of the situation is that many Jews in Israel feel no loyalty to the state, but are unable to speak out.
He confirmed that if he was to visit Israel, he would expect to be arrested and put in jail. “Many of us don’t go visit on principle… [and] every boy and girl from our community becomes a criminal when they turn 17 as they refuse to go there to do national service in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces].
Neterei Karta’s mission is not just to highlight the difference between Zionism and Judaism; it wants to see the peaceful destruction of Israel. Understandably, many see the removal of a state and its 9.4-million population as a bizarre concept.“They are always accusing us of being evil simply because we’re practising Judaism; they can only vilify the Jews who stand up and say, ‘I’ve been living with my Palestinian neighbours in peace for years’, we have a distinctly different religion but we lived together in peace. They came with their selfish, politically flawed concept without asking the indigenous people.”
Rabbi Weiss explained, “Every 10 years or so the state of Israel has a war, they never have true peace. We believe it’s what God told us. We believe Israel will end because it’s a direct rebellion against God, we are forbidden to have a Jewish state. We have to speak up and try to plead with world leaders to stop supporting this occupation and try to bring relief to the Palestinian people, but ultimately, it’s the Almighty who will bring an end.
“You may think Israel is set in stone but it doesn’t have to go on. It was only 73 years ago and the world went on hunky dory without them coming along. We could live without them.”
He reflected, “South Africa looked hopeless, but once there was pressure to stop apartheid, the whole concept changed. The whole concept of Palestine could be changed from a so-called Jewish state to a Free State of Palestine. What would be so bad? It’s only an aberration of the last 70-odd years that we’ve not been living in peace. We lived together as brothers and sisters in Palestine, and flourished.”The Rabbi believes Israel should be renamed and a Palestinian state created in its place. He then feels it could be a home to both Jewish and Muslim people, like it was for hundreds of years before.
Some critics refuse to offer Neutrei Karta a platform due to the accusations around its conduct and relationships. But the group is adamant it will continue to do its work, as, for them, it’s a God-given mandate.
Rabbi Weiss admitted, “We’re jaded a little; we have seen so many atrocities… in Gaza and the West Bank. There are always people who are pleasantly surprised and some who are shocked. Of course, the ones who are Zionists are aghast; they say we’re anti-Semitic and what we are doing will cause Jewish bloodshed.
“They attack Gaza with drones, people are murdered day in, day out – and every person has a family. Every member is affected and all those in the refugee camps living in squalor, do you think they grow up loving Jews?
“We tell them we hurt with you, and tell them the Jewish people don’t accept what Zionists are doing. It totally defies logic on every level, but the world buys into the Zionist propaganda and their PR machine. We want to stop the bloodshed and build bridges.”
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.