Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Online at: http://politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/4731/1/236/

Neturei Karta and the Limits of Tolerance
By Thomas Riggins

"But if truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her."-- John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

There was an interesting article in the Metro Section of last Monday’s New York Times (1-15-07) named "Friends in Iran Make for Discord at Home" written by Fernanda Santos. The article is about Neturei Karta an anti-Zionist group of Orthodox Jews and the response of the pro-Zionist community to this organization.

Let me briefly sum up what the article says about what Neturei Karta believes. The name of the organization is "Guardians of the City" in Aramaic and it was founded in Palestine in the 1930s by Orthodox Jews whose religious views teach that "according to the Torah, Jews were exiled from Israel because they sinned and that God has forbidden the formation of a Jewish state until the Messiah arrives."

Since we have freedom of religion in the US there should be no problem for the few thousand or so members who live here. The group also has a presence on the West Bank, England and Canada "among other places."

As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes, Neturei Karta favors a one-state solution, a Palestinian state, since the Messiah hasn’t shown up yet, they consider Israel illegitimate.

The plot thickens. This sect is stationed at Monsey, New York where the assistant director of the group, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss lives. Rabbi Weiss and a few of his followers recently attended the "Holocaust Conference" in Iran and met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This did not sit well with many pro-Zionists.

The question is: Why did Rabbi Weiss go to Iran? His grandparents died in Auschwitz and he is not a Holocaust skeptic, as were many at the conference. He told Fernanda Santos that he agreed with the view "that the Holocaust has been exploited to justify the existence of Israel." In his own words he said, "We went to Iran because we had to let the world know, especially the Arab world and the Muslim world, that we are not their enemies."

This seems like a noble idea. With all the perceived anti-Semitism in the Islamic world it is helpful to remind everyone that Jew and Zionist are not synonymous and that Jews are not the enemies of the Arabs or Muslims [nor need Zionists be for that matter]. The distinction between being anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist should never be blurred. Even though the "Holocaust Conference" seems to have been a farce, it may have been helpful for some of the delegates to realize that not all Jews are Zionists and to hear from people that don’t deny and are not skeptical about the Holocaust.

Since Rabbi Weiss and his followers have returned to the US they have been the objects of religious intolerance and the victims of bigotry directed at them by some elements within the Zionist community. The Times reports that 300 people protested at the headquarters of Neturei Karta in Monsey, New York on January 7th. The protesters had signs reading "Neturei Crackpots, Leave Monsey." Since there are no doubt crackpots in every city and town it seems a bit unfair to insist that Neturei Karta crackpots, if they are crackpots, should be singled out to have to move.

Some of the demonstrators don't even live in Monsey. Take for example Rabbi Herbert W. Bonner who is the president of the rabbinical board of Flatbush and teaches Talmudic law at Yeshiva University. He was there demonstrating, but had some second thoughts. "In some ways," he is quoted as saying, "I feel odd; this is about Jew against Jew, after all. But to join together and shake hands with the mad leader of Iran is unacceptable. If you shake hands with a Holocaust denier, you're on his team."

I'm not so sure one should be so upset about a crackpot shaking hands with a mad man. It is interesting how our perceived enemies always turn out to be somehow nuts. Chavez in Venezuela is regularly called crazy, as is Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. It is not even the case that Ahmadinejad is the leader of Iran, mad or otherwise. He has very little real power. Power rests with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. By the way, we have pictures of Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein shaking hands back in the 80s around the time of the gassing of the Kurds-- does that mean Rumsfeld was on Saddam's team? (maybe so.)

Rabbi Bonner is not the only one who shows little tolerance for crackpots.

The Times also quotes the leader of the Jewish Defense Organization, Mordechai Levy, saying that the demonstration, and others to come, have as their objective "running Neturei Karta out of town and out of America."

Well, we don't expect the Jewish Defense Organization to be very tolerant but if Neturei Karta is Jewish why doesn't the JDO defend it?

Ed Devir, another demonstrator said, "I think they're crazy. Everyone knows that they're a joke." So why get so upset about crazy people. Why not just have a good laugh and leave them be? Because, "the bottom line is, they support groups that want to kill Jews." If it were only that simple.

Rabbi Weiss maintains, having spoken several times with President Ahmadinejad, that "He is extremely friendly and he understands the difference between the Zionists and the Jews who do not embrace the state of Israel." He also thinks "it is [a] dangerous deviation to pretend that the Iranian president is anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic."

Marxists, of course, have their own problems with the Iranian regime, having to do with the repression of democratic rights and of the working people, and unlike Rabbi Weiss, we support a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-- but the issue here is tolerance. Is the Rabbi's group advocating anything violent or illegal? Do anti-Zionist Jews have a right to live in America or should they be "driven out?"

How does Rabbi Weiss think one should deal with one's enemies? With respect to president Ahmadinejad, the Rabbi said, "We don't look at him as an enemy. But is he a potential enemy? Well, every person who continues to be incited is one, but even when we're dealing with an enemy, we're supposed to approach them with dialogue and try to placate them. Aggression is not going to be successful." Dialogue and the rejection of aggression! No wonder so many think the Rabbi is a crackpot!

And what does the Rabbi make of all the demonstrations, name calling, and threats to drive his organization into the sea (or at least out of America)? "We're constantly disparaged, belittled, but we're the ones trying to make peace with the Arabs. But we don't look at the Zionists with animosity. We just wished they would give us a chance."

In sum, it seems that Neturei Karta is a small subset of Orthodox Jews who, for sincerely held religious reasons, reject the Zionist state and wish to relate to Arabs and other Muslims in a non-hostile matter in order to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish stereotypes. That so many other people, holding different views, want to persecute this small group for holding different ideas is a sad commentary on the limits of tolerance within some sections of the pro-Zionist community. Fortunately for the members of Neturei Karta they are protected by the same Bill of Rights that allows their antagonists to protest against them.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at pabooks@politicalaffairs.net

1 comment:

FSJL said...

Curiously, there are members of Neturei Karta living in Jerusalem. They don't seem to be getting the same kind of attention.