By Dr. Abdel-Wahab Elmessiri
Translated by Imad Al-Ayoubi
Members of Neturei Karta burn the Israel flag in London

Editor’s note: Neturei Karta have expressed their desire their desire to correct and clarify two issues in Dr. Elmessiri’s article. As such, their additions shall be included in the body of the text and shall be appropriately identified.

Although the media currently associate Orthodox Jews with groups that support Zionist racism, expansionism, and the establishment of settlements, Orthodox-Rabbinic Jewry have, until recently, rejected the Zionist movement, a rejection that is based on several fundamental principles of the Jewish faith.

Neturei Karta or the “Guardians of the City,” is a Jewish Orthodox group known for being one of the staunchest religious opponents to the Zionist state. According to Neturei Karta members, Zionism does not represent a continuation of Jewish religious heritage or an implementation of Jewish teachings; Zionism in their view is an evil conspiracy against Judaism.

The Orthodox Jewish rejection of Zionism is based mainly on the definition of the “Jewish people” from a religious perspective. Neturei Karta believes that the Jewish people are not a nation in the conventional sense; rather, it is a religious group that came into existence three thousands years ago.

Jewish beliefs state that the Jews are God’s chosen people; however, this privilege, according to one religious interpretation, is not to empower Jews to control the world: God has chosen Jews to perform a divine service in this world. Thus, they should serve humanity. Jews were chosen not because they are an arrogant people or a victorious group but because they are a humble and peace-loving people.

Based on their beliefs in a common humanity and in their religious specificity, Neturei Karta members stress that Judaism abhors the shedding of blood and calls for avoiding this at all costs. They also emphasize that Jewish beliefs urge Jews not to carry arms or assume positions of power. They believe that Jews should leave such matters to the governments under whose auspices they live. According to the Neturei Karta, it was the Jewish insistence that Judaism is a religious belief and not a national movement that ensured the survival of the Jewish people.

Contrary to these views, Zionists view the Jewish people as a nation, entitled to carry arms and resort to violence to reclaim their pride and self-respect. Hence, they should have an army, a navy, an air force and a distinguishing flag. Zionists believe that Jews should be ruled according to secular laws and that religious laws should be forgone. Zionists even deny the sacred nature of the Torah and view it, together with other Jewish religious books, as a kind of folklore that should be maintained as such.

To the Zionists, the concept of “God’s chosen people” is molded into racist political notions that grant Jews superior status. This superiority entitles Jews to privileges that violate the rights of others. Therefore, they have the right to occupy Palestine and expel its Arab population. Instead of complying with religious injunctions, Jews should abide by prevalent secular laws whether or not these laws are morally acceptable.

The Jews were exiled from the Promised Land by a divinely ordained command that cannot be rebelled against.

In contrast to the views held by members of the Neturei Karta that religious practices define the Jewish identity, Zionists opine that people can maintain their Jewish identity even if they deny the presence of God or do not observe any of Judaism’s religious practices, such as abstaining from work on Saturdays, following the laws and regulations that pertain to marriage, and complying with food-related injunctions, such as abstaining from the consumption of pork. The good Jew is no longer the pious practicing Jew who follows the teachings of his religion; it is he who spends lavishly in support of the Zionist state. This is not surprising given the fact that the founders of the Zionist movement rejected the Jewish religion and never abided by its teachings or moral ethics. While religious Jews view Hebrew as a religious language that they are forbidden to use in worldly affairs, Zionists adopted it for daily conversation in settlements and later as the official language of the state.

With regard to the Jews’ relationship with the “Promised Land,” Neturei Karta members stress that religious Jews yearn passionately for this deeply venerated land, the land of Zion or Eretz Y’Israel, the Sacred Promised Land (particularly Jerusalem), and they mention it several times during their daily prayers. They believe that the Jewish people were exiled from the Promised Land by a divinely ordained command that cannot be disobeyed or rebelled against; therefore, observant Jews can do nothing but continue their prayers until God responds to their supplications and commands their return to the Promised Land.

[Neturei Karta adds: The end of exile and the coming of the Messiah is not comprehendible according to present-day thought processes and not at all similar to the Zionist occupation. At that time, God will change the thought processes of humankind and all people will serve God together, in unison. There will be no more wars and hate.]

They also believe that it is only the Messiah who is able to establish the Jewish state, and that, upon his return, he will establish a kingdom of priests. As for the Zionists, they have attempted to accelerate the process by establishing this state through force of arms, without waiting for the will of God to effect this return. Therefore, the state of Israel is the fruit of a sinful arrogance because it was established at the hands of a group of disbelievers who rebelled against the will of God. For all these reasons, Neturei Karta members reject the state of Israel and all its institutions; they even refuse to visit the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) because Jerusalem was conquered by force.

According to Neturei Karta literature, the safety and security of Jews lies in their ability to make peace with the countries in which they live. Its members accuse the Zionist movement of being anti-Jewish. The Zionist state claims that it is a state for all Jewish people and that Jews are loyal to the Jewish state, not to the countries in which they live. This raised the issue of dual loyalty for Jews, and serves as justification for accusations leveled against them.

One of the relatively unknown facts that Neturei Karta members attempt to inform people about is that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to wipe out the Jewish masses of East Europe because of their rejection of Zionism on religious grounds. The spread of this rejection on such a wide scale would have left Zionism devoid of any form of legitimacy.

Neturei Karta members [Neturei Karta: do not] believe in separating the Creator from the creation. They lay emphasis on the human commonality between Jews and Gentiles, which is referred to in the Talmud, notwithstanding that some of the interpretations of the Talmud deliberately overlook these references. Neturei Karta members’ adherence to monotheism has protected them from backsliding into the secular paganism of the Zionist movement.

Neturei Karta rejects the state of Israel and its institutions, and refuses to visit the Wailing Wall because it was conquered by force.

Neturei Karta is an international group that embraces religious Jews who reject Zionism and its state throughout the world, including the United States of America. This group was affiliated to the Agudat Israel, an Orthodox movement that was established in eastern Europe in 1912 in an attempt to unite Orthodox Jews against secular movements, particularly Zionism. After the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, Agudat Israel submitted a letter to the League of Nations in protest against Zionist hegemony over the Jews in Palestine. Its members also refused to join Vaad Leumi or the National Council, the Zionist political entity that was supposed to represent all the Jews in Palestine. They fought fiercely against the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, and in 1927, its members officially requested the League of Nations to prevail upon the British mandate authorities in Palestine to grant religious Jews the right to choose not to join the National Council and to form an independent political body. Their request not to join the Committee was granted, but they were denied the right to independence.

However Agudat Israel’s position gradually evolved towards reconciliation with Zionism, and the group eventually accepted the Zionist movement and integrated with it. Consequently, Agudat Israel spoke of the Balfour Declaration as being inspired by the divine promise to the Jews; later, it recognized Zionist actions as being legal and raised funds on behalf of Zionist military organizations that sponsored the establishment of Jewish settlements.

Because of Agudat Israel’s support of Zionism, some of its members who immigrated to Palestine from Germany and Poland in 1935 broke away from the group and formed the group that later became known as Neturei Karta.

Of the major problems that Neturei Karta face is that the group is opposed to the very idea of political organization. Its members see themselves as a religious group; therefore, they view the concept of political organization as a foreign concept, which they reject. However, the group eventually took a stand and accused Agudat Israel of siding with the Zionist movement and has since 1944 published its own newspaper. Neturei Karta also started organizing its own community, which was independent of the Zionist entity; this community, which its unique social and economic lifestyle, was based on religiosity and asceticism and severed all relations with Zionist settlers.

In the wake of the proclamation of the state of Israel in 1948, Neturei Karta sent a letter to the United Nations expressing the group’s rejection of this state. During the battle for Jerusalem, the group called for an armistice and for the internationalization of Jerusalem in order for it to remain separate from the Zionist entity. Some members of the group went as far as openly declaring their wish to live under Jordanian rule.

Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to wipe out the Jewish masses of East Europe.

To date, the Neturei Karta does not recognize Israel, and on the anniversary of the proclamation of the state, its members fast, lower flags to half-mast, and organize protests and demonstrations. The group takes a positive stance towards the Palestinian Liberation Movement and the Palestinian claim to Palestine. It also declares that its members are willing to live as a religious minority under the rule of a Palestinian government that would ensure their political rights. Not surprisingly, the group is subjected to continued harassment by the Zionist authorities: Israeli police often raid the Mea Shearim Quarter, arresting members of the group and searching their homes. The Zionist government further attempts to stifle the growth of this quarter in order to strangulate its community and limit its influence.

Recently, the Neturei Karta started to re-organize itself, intensifying its activities and dealing more efficiently with the media and various international organizations. The group, which now has an observer status at the United Nations, played an important role during the discussion of the United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism. It is currently undertaking a massive awareness campaign amongst Jews and non-Jews, calling for the dismantling of the state of Israel, the establishment of a Palestinian state that controls all Palestinian territories, and the internationalization of Jerusalem.

The Neturei Karta has an administrative council that consists of seven men who decide on issues relating to the administration of the group’s religious and worldly affairs. The group has approximately 60,000 members, and while its biggest community is based in Brooklyn, New York, there are other smaller communities in London, Antwerp, Montreal and Jerusalem.

IslamOnline has hosted a live dialogue session with Rabbi Yisroel David Weiss of Neturei Karta. Click here to read the dialogue.

* Excerpted from “The Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism, and Zionism,” Volume 6.