If you have a social media presence, and use it to defend Israel’s right to exist, sooner or later, extreme “anti-Zionists” present you with the picture.
There’s actually more than one picture, as you can see - but they all show the same thing – a group of men (it is always men) dressed in strictly orthodox Jewish garb, holding anti-Zionist signs. The signs usually say the same thing – “Judaism rejects Zionism”, or “Jews worldwide condemn Israel”.
These pictures are eagerly shared by many “anti-Zionists” on social media, often with a message along the following lines – “These are the REAL Jews, and they oppose Israel”. These pictures are usually tweeted at Jews who have the temerity to believe in the concept of a state for the Jewish people.
However, the men holding these signs all belong to a sect called the “Neturei Karta”, a tiny sect, far from reflective of the attitudes of the Jewish community at large.
People who are positively disposed towards Israel – or at least, not opposed to it – might not be aware of the group, and might find such pictures extremely disconcerting. So, as a public service, let’s discuss who these people are, and what they want.
Who are the Neturei Karta?
The concept of Zionism was one of a number of ideologies popular among Jews prior to World War Two, including Communism and Bundism. But the Holocaust, which saw the murder of over a third of the Jewish people, changed that irrevocably. Zionism, the idea that the Jewish people should have their own country in their historic homeland, became by far the strongest movement among the Jewish people.
But there has never been a single idea in the entire history of the Jewish people that has been embraced unanimously – and Zionism was no different. There were far-left Jews who saw Zionism as an insult to their own ideologies – and there were religious Jews who felt the same way.
The most famous rabbinical opponent of Zionism was a man called Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the head of the Satmar Chassidic dynasty. Satmar had been decimated in the Holocaust, but Rav Yoel, who was a force of human nature, rebuilt the movement from the ground up. He was vehemently anti-Zionist, and until this day, the Satmar sect is hostile towards the idea of the state of Israel.
However, there were a group of strictly orthodox Jews who went further – much further. They called themselves “Neturei Karta” – literally, “Guardians of the City” - they were actually set up just prior to World War Two as a breakaway from Agudas Yisrael, a strictly orthodox organisation which had begun to warm towards the idea of a Jewish state.
The Neturei Karta portrayed themselves as “authentic Jews”, selectively quoting from the Torah and the Talmud to justify their core belief, that the establishment of any Jewish state prior to the coming of the Messiah was utterly forbidden.
What do the Neturei Karta do?
Globally, the Neturei Karta sect number around 5,000, while the most conservative estimate of the global Jewish population comes out at approximately 14.3 million. This means that Neturei Karta make up just 0.03% of the entire Jewish population.
Most are based in Israel, despite their bizarre refusal to recognise the state. There are also communities in the US and the UK.
However, even among Neturei Karta, only a few hundred vocally protest against the state of Israel. But what they lack in numbers, they more than make up for in poisonous hatred.
Simply put, if you loathe the state of Israel, Neturei Karta want to be your friend. They went to Iran to participate in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Denial conference. They went to meet with Louis Farrakhan, the horrendously antisemitic head of the Nation of Islam cult. They march hand in hand with people waving Hezbollah flags and calling for the death of Jews at regular Al Quds day parades.
How other Jews view Neturei Karta
The group is regarded with bemusement by some Jews, condescension by others, and disgust by many more. Other strictly orthodox Jews have taken pains to disassociate themselves from the behaviour of Neturei Karta, unequivocally condemning them.
Even some far-left Jewish anti-Zionists know exactly what Neturei Karta are – a group of crazy fundamentalists who support the Palestinian cause because it happens to fit their own agenda. The mostly execrable +972 Magazine is a case in point, making this unusually cogent observation on the subject:
“Neturei Karta’s worldview is shaped by their opposition to Jewish self-determination, not support for Palestinian self-determination. Similar to Evangelical Christian support of radical right-wing Israeli groups, Neturei Karta’s support of Palestinians is based on fundamentalist views and not on actual ideological identification with the Palestinian struggle. Both of these Messianic forces will take on any type of ideological form to promote their own fatalistic worldview.”
I have argued elsewhere that the willingness of some of those who are pro-Israel to embrace Christian evangelicals is incredibly stupid. Likewise, the eagerness of anti-Zionists to embrace a group which opposes Israel only because it is not a strictly orthodox Jewish state founded in the wake of the Messiah’s coming seems utterly bizarre.
But apparently for many anti-Zionists, it matters less about what Neturei Karta believe, and more about how they actually look. Because Neturei Karta dress in the garb which most non-Jews associate with Jews, and because they hold up signs emphasising their anti-Zionist beliefs, they can be held up by antisemites as the real Jews, the good Jews, the Jews who agree with us – while the vast majority of Jews, who do support Israel, can be dismissed by such people as “fake”.