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On Neturei Karta

We want to do our best to explain about some groups, people and terms which sometimes crop up in discussions about anti-Semitism and related topics.

First, we thought we’d say a little about Neturei Karta, some of whose members are pictured here.

In case you’re not familiar with us at Socialists Against Anti-Semitism, we are an avowedly left-wing group, we do not identify as a Zionist group, and we are in support of a Palestinian state, not in the distant future but immediately. However, we are strong critics of anyone on the left or elsewhere who uses any form of anti-Semitism to further their argument.

Neturei Karta’s name means “gates of the city” in Aramaic. It was a split-off from the Agudat Israel party, dating from 1938. Basically, they are ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe that a state of Israel may only be justly formed when the Jewish Messiah has come, and that the foundation of the present State of Israel was sinful and blasphemous according to their interpretation of the Torah. Hundreds of years ago, these views were mainstream amongst the most orthodox Jews; nowadays, they are fringe views even amongst ultra-religious Jews.

The belief that Israel has no right to exist has led them to work with others who believe, or have believed in the past, that this is the case. Therefore, they have been on a delegation to Iran to meet then-President Ahmedinajad, and they have also met and worked with others who are regarded as anathema to the vast majority of Jewish people (even those who are opposed to Zionism).

As opponents of Israel, they have supported the PLO and other organizations which have vowed to destroy the state. They are also frequently seen at demonstrations in support of the Palestinians. This in itself is in no way a problem for us here at SAAS: however, the picture on the right above shows NK members, with other demonstrators, doing the “quenelle”, the reverse Nazi salute, which certainly should be a problem for all of us. It concerns us deeply that Jewish people would want to give such a salute which implies at least some level of support for Nazi-inspired policies. Such a salute has no place at any progressive demonstration or other event and should be anathema to us all. They have also, equally seriously, supported the vicious racist and anti-Semitic party, Jobbik, in Hungarian elections.This has led to a number of popular misconceptions, which we’d like to discuss. It is, after all, important to understand Jewish groups throughout the political and religious spectrum in order to gain an understanding of the Jewish community, and misunderstanding aspects of Neturei Karta can lead to taking up positions which ultimately will not help in either ending the suffering of the Palestinian people, or dealing with anti-Semitism.

  1. Neturei Karta are sometimes described by extreme anti-Zionists as “the real Jews”, which is a term they use about themselves. In fact, Jews are Jews no matter what they believe in theological and political terms. Neturei Karta are genuine Jews, but so are adherents of standard Orthodoxy, Hasidic, Reform or Liberal Jews, or entirely secular Jews. Like members of any other ethnic or religious community, Jewish people have views all over the political spectrum. NK are wont to say that Zionism is the opposite of Judaism. They may well believe that, but if any serious understanding of the worldwide Jewish community can be achieved, it’s vital to recognise that this simply isn’t the case. The vast majority of religious Jews, and almost certainly a smaller majority of secular Jews, identify as Zionists, and most religious Jews regard Zionism as part of their religious as well as secular political beliefs. 
  2. Some people are under the impression that, either because it fits in with their views of the Middle East or because they simply believe what the NK say, Neturei Karta represents the majority opinion within the Jewish community. This is overwhelmingly not the case. There are thought to be only 5,000 members worldwide, out of a total Jewish world population of about 14 million, and no more than about 100 actively participating in their anti-Zionist activities. Even amongst ultra-Orthodox Jews, NK are regarded as an extreme fringe group, let alone amongst Jewish people as a whole. Satmar are widely considered to be the largest Chassidic group in the world and are also anti-Zionist, they routinely condemn NK. 
  3. Their support for the Palestinians is conditional and would come to an end if, in their belief, a Jewish Messiah were to come. In that respect, they are completely different from anyone else involved in anti-Zionist activity. 
  4. On the other hand, some of the harder-line pro-Israel Jews have questioned whether NK are Jews at all, claiming that they are, essentially, pretending to be. There is no evidence for that at all. Although NK are on the extreme fringe of Jewish opinion, they are certainly genuinely Jewish. 
  5. Although they are often seen on left-wing demonstrations and events in support of Palestine, their views on social issues are very far indeed from progressive; indeed, their religious views are fundamentalist and extremist.

So, in summary, Neturei Karta are by the estimate of any known independent analysts a part of the Jewish community, but a very, very small minority sect within it. It is important that we understand that, and that they do not represent anyone except their tiny membership.

Recommended further reading:

972 Magazine explain how Neturei Karta are ‘are no friend of the Palestinian national struggle‘.

The Jewish Virtual Library offers a useful history and context to the NK.

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