Phil Cohen

The Shanda of Neturei Karta

It’s a rainy day in Albany, NY and a haredi looking type, long beard, payot, horn rimmed glasses, is addressing a crowd. His black hat is covered by what appears to be a plastic garbage bag intended to protect it from the rain, but you can tell he’s dressed in basic haredi gear. He holds a microphone in one hand with the experienced demeanor of a rock star, and looks intensely into the crowd. Is this pious man about to lead the gathered in a niggun or advise the men to don tefillin or the women to light Shabbos candles? No. Instead of religious advice, he says to the crowd, “Stop the siege now.” And the crowd of Hamas sympathizers responds, “Stop the siege now.”

The speaker is Dovid Feldman a leader of, as he puts it, Neturei Karta International. He has come to Albany to add his voice to this rally gathered in support of Hamas and against Israel. There’s a practiced style to his presentation. He’s done this before. Many times. The current war has given him and his cronies ample opportunity to show up and speak at anti-Israel rallies all over the world to declare the illegitimacy of the state of Israel and Zionism and decry the genocide perpetrated in the name of the Zionist project. In the good old days, he says, Jews and Muslims lived side by side in perfect peace, and at most rallies and interviews he shows and old photo of a Jew and a Muslim from sometime in the past doing something together. Then Zionist thought he says in speech after speech emerged into the world in the 1920’s (sic) and imagined and then brought into being an entity that goes against Judaism. Two men stand beside Feldman at this rally each carrying a sign. One reads “Judaism condemns the State of “Israel” and its atrocities.” The other reads, “State of “Israel” does not represent world Jewry.”  That’s the basic Neturei Karta rant in a nutshell. Zionism is not Jewish and Israel isn’t a Jewish state.

Later in his tirade, after leading the crowd in chanting. “Stop the siege now,” he then chants, “Stop the occupation now.”  And at the end of his thing he offers to the crowd, “One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is not a Jewish state. One, two, three, four, state of Israel no more. Five, six, seven, eight, stop the killing, stop the hate.” And, dutifully, the crowd responds with enthusiasm. As stated Feldman is a rock star.

Now understand this image. A man dressed up to look like an authentic haredi Jew is leading a group of Hamas sympathizers in chants of hate of Israel like it’s the most natural thing in the world. But to me it comes off as a sick joke. I’d like to laugh because this scene is mordantly funny, but I don’t because to me this Jew who is a traitor to his people is a tragedy.

I used to think that these clowns were but a mild infection on the posterior of the Jewish people. Sure, they’d show up here and there with placards and pamphlets declaring that Judaism is not Zionism and that Israel is illegitimate, that that piece of land some call Israel, he calls “Occupied Palestine.” But so what? They’re just some jokers from Mea Shearim who get money from somewhere to make nuisances of themselves.

But not now.  Now those older tropes are supplanted by claims that Israel is a perpetuator of violence and genocide and should be dismantled. And now they’re no longer merely annoying. Now they’re dangerous.

 This post is not the time to refute Neturei Karta’s arguments, easy though it would be to do so. The fish I am frying here is different than that simple task.

The Jewish people are at war against an implacable enemy. The IDF are doing the fighting and dying. But the entire Jewish world is touched to their core by this war. We watch as the arc of Jewish history is being altered before our eyes.

In these times these fools are no longer amusing. Perhaps in times when what passes for normal Jewish life we could view them as parodies of real Jews. In normal times perhaps seeing members of Neturei Karta at a Holocaust denial conference in Teheran seated next to Ahmadinejad might tickle that part of one’s funny bone that finds humor in a healthy dose of irony.  (Of course, the irony lies in the obvious fact that haredi Jews were among Hitler’s most numerous victims. What were they doing at a meeting that denied the Holocaust, which no doubt took some of their mishpocha in the mass murder of Hungarian Jews?)

 But today they are no longer funny. These are times where antisemitism running amok around the world, where the word “Jew” is defamed everywhere we turn, where to have an identifiable Jew lecturing in a mosque or being interviewed on Al-Jazeera, or leading our adversary in chants against us is utterly vile. It’s disgusting. I’m disgusted.

  In these times we can’t have Jews sanctimoniously declaring that they are the real Jews and claiming moral superiority by standing up before our adversaries and giving them comfort, lending legitimacy to their distortions. In these times, they are no longer merely clowns, these men who have the unmitigated gall to call themselves the  Guardians of the City (the translation of Neturei Karta) are protecting no one. Instead, these quislings who stand before a crowd and deny Israel the right to exist are aiding and abetting our foes and helping to contribute to this horrific rise of antisemitism that Jews now face worldwide. Who knows how many take comfort from the fact that these authentically Jewish looking people profess to be on their side, on the side of Hamas, while claiming that God is on their side. Who knows how much damage they do?

  In denying Israel the right to exist, this perverse group is unmistakably antisemitic and should be loudly condemned.

 You ask, can there be Jewish antisemites?

 Yes, friends. Their name is Neturei Karta.

 I add an appendage. As I wrote this piece I was aiming for some bit of sardonic humor over this marginal group. But I finished writing on the sheloshim of the Simhat Torah massacre, and a dark feeling has crept over me, a sadness rooted in the profundity of what happened and what lays before Israel and the Jewish people. In the midst of that sadness, I find myself unable to comprehend the depths of the heartlessness of Neturei Karta. They’re willingness, indeed, their enthusiasm, to separate themselves from the Jewish people is condition for which the word “shanda” was created, as it is perfect descriptor for who they are.

Shame on them.

About the Author
Phil Cohen is a Reform rabbi, a scholar of Jewish thought, who writes on Israel, theology, bioethics, and parshanut. He is also an author of fiction, with many online publications and two forthcoming books, a sci-fi novel and a book of very short stories. He lives in Greensboro, NC with Betsy Gamburg and their rescued greyhound Maggy. They are the proud parents of Elly and Talia and, as of the end of 2017, Ava Ruth. He serves as rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel, Albany, GA.