Community outraged as Neturei Karta
embraces Holocaust deniers.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
hen you're at a Holocaust-
deniers convention, you don't
want to be the guy ordering
the kosher meal," host Jon Stewart joked
on his Daily Show.
But the Orthodox world is hardly laugh-
ing at the participation of a fringe Chasidic
group, the Neturei Karta, in a Holocaust-
denial convention in Tehran in December.
The group drew immediate censure when
video footage from the conference showed
several members of the group in fervently
Orthodox garb, long beards and side-locks
embracing and kissing the conference's host,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel
of America both distanced themselves
from the Neturei Karta, emphasizing that
Orthodox Judaism in no way condones
Holocaust denial or the political stance of
Ahmadinejad, who has called repeatedly for
the destruction of Israel.
"They are not on our radar screen, not
any part of our constituency or the constitu-
ency of any Orthodox organization, includ-
ing Agudath Israel to our right," said the
O.U.'s executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi
Hersh Weinreb. "They are a small group that
is often very vocal. They are embarrassing:'
The Neturei Karta, Hebrew for "guard-
ians of the city,' believe that a Jewish state
should be formed only when the messianic
age arrives. Thus they consider the Israeli
government heretical and believe the Israeli
rabbinate is used only to "ornament their
state with a clerical image,' according to the
Neturei Karta's Web site.
The group has no official central office
and no supreme leader. But it has syna-
gogues and yeshivot in Jerusalem, Brooklyn,
England and upstate New York, said spokes-
man Chaim Soffer.
Soffer said the Neturei Karta understand
that there was a "euphoria" after the creation
of the State of Israel, but "political sover-
eignty has been a disaster. The wars didn't
end. The bloodshed didn't end:'
According to Neturei Karta philosophy,
after the destruction of the Temple in
Jerusalem two millennia ago, Jews lived well
under Arab and Muslim rule. The creation
of the State of Israel created an anti-Semitic
movement within the Arab and Muslim
world because Jews became oppressors of
the Palestinians, Soffer said.
By meeting with the likes of
Ahmadinejad, the Neturei Karta say they are
working toward a peaceful solution to the
Arab-Israeli conflict. That solution includes
a non-Jewish state in place of Israel, where
Jews can live under Arab rule, he said.
"We are trying to establish a dialogue
with those who are the enemies of the
Jewish people,' Soffer said. "We want to
undo some of the damage that was done:'
The Neturei Karta, which has a member-
ship estimated at up to 5,000, aren't the only
religious Jews who are anti-Zionist. One of
the largest Chasidic sects, the Satmar, takes
Agudath Israel was against the formation
of the State of Israel before 1948, accord-
ing to the group's spokesman, Rabbi Avi
Shafran, but gave up that position after the
country was founded and decided to work
within the political system to make it a more
The Neturei Karta routinely make com-
mon cause with noted anti-Semites and
anti-Zionists and appear at pro-Palestinian
rallies. The Israel Defense Forces found
that the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat paid
the group — whose support helped blunt
accusations that the PLO was anti-Semitic
— more than $50,000.
Agudath Israel typically ignores the
group, which tends to garner press cover-
age because the image of Chasidic Jews
embracing anti-Semites is so striking, Rabbi
Shafran said. But he called the Neturei
Karta's public affection for Ahmadinejad
"graphic and disgusting:"
"They have given legitimacy to Holocaust
denial, and generally it is the parents and
grandparents of these people who suffered
the most': he said. "They have given aid to
and abetted the enemy:'
The Satmars, with whom the Neturei
Karta most closely associate, issued a harsh
statement that didn't name the Neturei
Karta, but clearly was directed toward them.
"We call and warn all to whom the honor
of God and the holy Torah are precious in
His eyes to distance themselves from them
and to condemn their actions and not to
give them any encouragement because by
doing this you are helping desecrate the
name of Heaven and in the future will be
held to account': the Hebrew-language state-
Yisroel Dovid Weiss, one of five Neturei
Karta rabbis who took part in the Tehran
conference, said the Jewish world had mis-
understood their actions.
Speaking from the Iranian capital, Rabbi
Weiss said his grandparents had been killed
in the Holocaust. He was not in Tehran to
give credence to Holocaust denial, he said,
but to draw a distinction between Zionists
Prestate Zionists set themselves up as the
enemies of Hitler and, in doing so, helped
push Hitler to kill millions of Jews, Rabbi
Weiss said. "If you're going to spit at people,
what do you think is going to happen?" he
Rabbi Weiss said his group was trying
to make sure that the same thing didn't
happen with Ahmadinejad. "He is not an
enemy of the Jews. He never was': Rabbi
Weiss said. "He is a God-fearing man, as far
as we saw. He respects the Jewish people and
he protects them in Iran"
But if the Zionists keep painting
Ahmadinejad as an enemy, he warned,
"eventually, God forbid, he could become an
A number of Jewish groups will gather
outside the Holocaust Museum and Study
Center in Spring Valley, N.Y., near Monsey, to
protest the Tehran conference and express
their displeasure with the Neturei Karta. The
militant Jewish Defense Organization called
for a protest outside Rabbi Weiss' home in
Monsey, N.Y., for Jan. 7. fI
Brit Criticizes Fence
Bethlehem/JTA —In his Christmas
sermon in Bethlehem, the Archbishop of
Canterbury criticized Israel's security barrier.
Rowan Williams compared the
Palestinians' situation to the suffering of
Jesus, and added that the security barrier is
"a sign not simply of the passing problem in
the politics of one region. It is a sign of the
things which are deeply wrong in the human
heart itself, that terrible fear of the other, of
the stranger, which keeps us all in one kind
or another of prison.
"In one of the hymns we sing in English
during the Advent season," he said, "we sing
about Jesus Christ, the one who comes to the
prison bars to break. And it's our prayer and
our hope for all of you that the prison of pov-
erty and disadvantage, the prison of fear and
anxiety, will alike be broken"
Israel's West Bank security barrier has
drastically reduced terrorist attacks in Israel.
Bethlehem/JTA — Some 3,500 foreign
pilgrims came to Bethlehem for Christmas.
The Associated Press cited the figures from
the Palestinian Tourism Ministry. Before the
intifada broke out in 2000, foreign pilgrims
numbered in the tens of thousands.
jenisalem/ITA --- Most Israelis want peace
talks with Syria, but not at the cost of giving
up the Golan.
A poll published by Yediot Achronot
found that 67 percent of Israelis think their
government should respond to recent peace
overtures from Syria by resuming nego
tiations that stalled in 2000. But an almost
equal number— 66 percent — said they
would be opposed to returning the Golan
Heights to Syria, even under a peace treaty.
Thirty-two percent of respondents were
against new talks with Damascus, and 33
percent said they would support giving up
the Golan as part of a peace deal. The survey
had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.
Jerusalem/JTA One in 50 Israelis is
Christian. According to data published
by the Central Bureau of Statistics in
Jerusalem, Israel has 148,000 Christian citi-
zens — 2.1 percent of the population. Most
of these are Christian Arabs, but the figure
includes some 28,000 immigrants from the
former Soviet Union whose Jewish spouses
obtained naturalization rights under the
Law of Return.
Israel is also home to around 180,000 legal
and undocumented foreign workers, many
of whom are Christian.
Israel Gets Secular
Jerusalem/JTA — Nine secular rabbis were
ordained in Israel in December. The Tmura
Institute, a group lobbying for religious
pluralism in the Jewish state, certified seven
men and two women to conduct weddings,
and bar and bat mitzvahs for Israelis who
reject Orthodox practice.
The nine underwent three years of train-
ing in Judaism but profess no spiritual con-
victions. Since they will not require couples
they marry to prove that they are Jewish, the
weddings will not be recognized by the state.
But Tmura said its achievement was more
a matter of symbolism. "We simply want
to serve the majority of the Jewish people,
which is not religious. We are not committed
to religious principles, we are committed to
pluralism," Professor Yaacov Malkin, one of
the program's leaders, told Maariv.
28 0 2006