By Jamie Busby - Staff Author
Neturei Karta means "Guardians of the City" in Aramaic. They're a group of Orthodox Haredi Jews that was formed in 1938 in Palestine while it was still under British control. They've spread out around the world with branches in the UK and America. They're also known to hold controversial views on the Holocaust and associate themselves with controversial people. More on that later.
Motto - "Jews united against Zionism" - A concise yet very clear description.
They are vehemently anti-Zionist due to it's secular and political nature. They're also passionately against the state of Israel, believing that it's not only illegal but against God's wishes. Judaism tells them that they're prohibited from having a Jewish state until the coming of the Messiah. And the Messiah hasn't arrived yet. Below is the link to my recent article on Zionism;
The "Anti Defamation League", an extremely powerful Jewish organisation based in America, has claimed that they are "the farthest fringes of Judaism". They are considered extremists and ULTRA Orthodox by outsiders but consider themselves as merely following Judaism to the letter.
VICE News sent reporter Milene Larsson to investigate, meeting up with and following members of the UK branch of Neturei Karta to see what they're all about.
This takes us to Stamford Hill in North London, a well known Jewish district of the Capital. In the words of Rabbi Beck, one of their leaders, they believe in and call for the dismantling of Israel. They declare that Israel does not represent Judaism in any way and Israel is in fact a state-sponsored terrorist organisation. This makes them controversial, to say the least, and very unpopular with other Jewish people.
Rabbi Beck claims that in Stamford Hill, just one London borough, there are thousands of anti-Zionist Jews. Yet the Anti Defamation League estimate their global numbers at 5000 or less.
However, since the formal creation of Israel in 1948, Haredi Jews have been extremely vocal in their hostility towards the fledgling state due to the reasons already stated. In saying that, many of these Ultra Orthodox groups, after experiencing what Israel could offer them, began to relax their anti-Israel stance... A few staunch so-called radicals have maintained these views to the present day though, such as those of Neturei Karta.
Question; Is it considered radical nowadays to stick to your guns regarding your beliefs?
Part of Neturei Karta's work involves distributing flyers explaining why they're against Israel and Zionism. They describe the sheer power of Israeli propaganda, meaning they have to counter it as hard as possible. Rabbi Beck tells of how they're simply trying to make people aware of what the Torah, the law of God in Judaism, actually means.
Rabbi Beck's synagogue in London is 2 terraced houses knocked through to form one larger building. They have a banner on the front window that basically spells out their thoughts in layman's terms;
"A Jew is not a Zionist - The Zionist state is not a state of the Jewish People"
Rabbi Beck is asked if he thinks that the phrase "A Jew is not a Zionist" is controversial. He explains that the synagogue has been attacked several times, broken windows,etc... He emphasises that it's simply because other Jews don't like what they're saying. They're seen as fanatical extremists.
Yet all his organisation is saying here is that Jews are not Zionists. It's true that Zionism and Judaism do not always go hand in hand. As is the fact that not all Zionists are Jewish.
Rabbi Beck also believes that far from operating in secrecy, the only reason that those of Neturei Karta are relatively unknown is because that's the way the media wants it. Hence, the message of this particular group is kept oppressed.
In the actual synagogue area of the building there is up to 50 anti-Zionism and anti-Israel books. The rest of this synagogue is quite standard, featuring the crown of the Torah and the 10 commandments. He explains that Israel breaks at least 2 of these commandments. Namely "Don't Kill" and "Don't Steal". He also adds that the basic premise of Judaism is to trust in God. For example, if God puts the Jews in a position of exile, they must stay in exile until the coming of the Messiah. That is what Judaism or any other religion is all about, following it's holy scriptures. In their minds, this is what makes Israel 100% against God.
Nakba means "disaster" in Arabic. Nakba Day is also known as the "Day of the Catastrophe" for Palestinians and their supporters. This is held on May 15th, the day after Israeli Independence day. It's held in commemoration of the wholesale displacement of Palestinians due to the formation of the state of Israel. Naturally, the two "celebrations" are known to clash; one side partying, the other in remembrance.
Rabbi Beck and those of Neturei Karta take part in what are essentially these demonstrations, on the side of the Palestinians of course. This is their way of getting their message out. That message is simple; Jews and Zionists are not the same thing. And coming from Orthodox Jews, this is a powerful message.
Rabbi Beck and his people make signs, banners and placards to display their stance. One of the signs they take reads as follows;
"Judaism rejects the state of Israel and condemn it's atrocities - Judaism and Zionism are extreme opposites"
Due to the fact that the demonstration falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, they're forbidden from using cars or public transport for travelling. This means a walk of over 3 hours to Hyde Park, the location of the protest. Also, they're not permitted to carry ANYTHING on the Sabbath. This means they literally have to wear their signs and banners under their clothing. This is Law under Judaism and as always, they abide by it.
When asked about the Palestinian presence at the demo, Rabbi Beck explains that him and his followers will be made "very, very welcome". He explains that they are simply bringing the true message of Judaism, adding "Who is the real Jew?". Other Jewish people in attendance don't obey the Sabbath. They don't walk for over 3 hours to get there, they go by car. Yet they still claim they are Jewish; this frustrates Beck.
"The Zionists have the power, the media have the power and we have got nothing... We have only one thing. We have God on our side." - Rabbi Beck
So, 3+ hours of walking later and they arrive at the Israeli Embassy for the protest. They're immediately greeted with chants of "SCUM", "You're a disgrace" and "TRAITORS" from pro-Israeli supporters but ignore it. They're headed to the other side of the road; the Palestinian side! As Rabbi Beck had predicted, they're warmly welcomed and greeted by pro-Palestine supporters. They join in with chants of "Down, down Israel" and "Free, free Palestine" and it's a surreal sight. Jewish men in full traditional dress, curly Payot sideburns and all, standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are supposedly their mortal enemies.
One of the Palestinian supporters with a microphone loudly proclaims "We have our Jewish brothers. Judaism is OK. Zionism is no way". On the other side of the road, pro-Israel supporters speak of how they are traitors. They also know they're Neturei Karta and condemn them as extreme and Ultra Orthodox. They talk of how they're not considered Jews amongst other Jews and even claim that they're the Jewish equivalent of ISIS!
Whatever they are, they are peaceful and as devout to their religion and beliefs as possible. Yet other Jews claim that if they could, they would strap explosives to themselves and be suicide bombers. A simple response to this would be "Why haven't they then?". This assertion that they are would-be suicide bombers is put to Rabbi Beck. He is clear that nobody there supports violence of any kind.
Then a Jewish man tells members of Neturei Karta that he was in the Israeli Army and asks how they, as Jews, can be against Israel. This man tells of how he lost many people there. The response is that he lost people for nothing. The ex-IDF member says it was for a country that is all their country. He is firmly told that they are not willing to die for a country that is forbidden by Judaism. He continues by telling the man that the illegal occupation of Palestine is not supported by Judaism. The reply is "There is no occupation. Read your facts". Do the facts not show that Israel occupies what was once Palestine?...
The members of Neturei Karta are known to have regularly met with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is widely considered a Holocaust-denier, so what links them? Members of the group attended his infamous conference in Tehran in 2006. It was here that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly questioned the Holocaust.
On the Neturei Karta website, they write about how they believe the Holocaust was punishment by God for not being devout enough in their religion. Rabbi Beck confirms that this is their belief, retribution by God for those going away from God.
This is contentious and they also believe that the Holocaust worked in the favour of the Zionists. He explains that Israel uses the Holocaust as justification for what they're doing to the Palestinians now. Rabbi Beck also says that as far as he knows, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a Holocaust-denier. Rather, he is just a fierce critic of Israel and Zionism, the same as them.
Neturei Karta are proponents of a PEACEFUL dissolution of Israel as opposed to the perceived views ascribed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has been quoted as saying Israel should be "wiped off the map" and words to that effect.
Rabbi Beck explains that what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is referring to is not the people of Israel but the actual state itself. The language of all involved is highly nuanced and down to interpretation, but this is what Neturei Karta make of that.
Lag BaOmer Festival
This is a Jewish holiday celebrating the anniversary of the death of Shimon bar Yochai, a famous 2nd century Rabbi. The bonfire is the symbol of this day and that is how Jewish people commemorate it, lots of bonfires. Neturei Karta also "celebrate" this holiday; by burning the Israeli flag. To them, it's a day of celebration AGAINST Israel.
In the back garden of their synagogue, they first make a bonfire. Rabbi Beck explains that burning the Israeli flag is symbolic of burning the Israeli Zionist regime. This is performed to show how Israel does NOT speak for the Jewish people.
After some dancing and singing round the bonfire, an Israeli flag is brought out and the singing and dancing continues. Then the flag is opened up and held over the bonfire, quickly catching light. Rabbi Beck speaks of how this is purely symbolic and not an act of violence. He admits they don't enjoy the fight they're in or indeed burning the flag, but "we do what we have to do".
Everything we've spoken of regarding Neturei Karta and those they oppose is down to the conflict between religion and politics. They are some of the most hardcore followers of any religion anywhere. But isn't that the point with religion? You either follow it all or don't bother.
One thing that cannot be denied is that Neturei Karta are not hypocrites and stand up for what they believe in, within the constraints of their belief system. They are indeed controversial, but at least it's based on their honesty and not lies or unknowns.
Contact me by email: [email protected]
http://www.nkusa.org/ Neturei Karta website
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