Neturei Karta (Aramaic: "Guardians of the City")
is a group of Orthodox Jews
which rejects Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. They believe
that the true Israel can only be reestablished with the coming of the Messiah. They number some
5,000 and are concentrated in Jerusalem.
Other, larger groups associated with Neturei Karta but not members of
the group, can be found in Israel, London, New York City, and upstate
New York state.
For the most part, the members of Neturei Karta are
descended from Hungarian Jews that settled in Jerusalem's Old City in the early nineteenth century. They were tradesmen and
craftsmen, who devoted most of their time to studying the Talmud and other sacred texts. Most of their livelihood was based on the halukah,
or distribution of charitable donations from wealthy Jews in the Diaspora.
In the late nineteenth century, they participated in the creation of
new neighborhoods outside the city walls to alleviate overcrowding in
the Old City, and most
are now concentrated in the neighborhood of Batei Ungarin and the larger Meah Shearim neighborhood.
At the time, they were vocal opponents to the new political ideology of Zionism that was attempting
to assert Jewish sovereignty in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. They resented
the new arrivals, who were predominantly secular, and claimed that Jewish
redemption could only be brought about by the Messiah.
Among the proofs they brought for this argument was a talmudic Midrash (legend) that God, the Jewish
People, and the nations of the world made a divine pact, when the Jews
were sent into exile by the Roman Empire. One provision of the pact
was that the Jews would not rebel against the non-Jewish world that
gave them sanctuary; a second was that they would not immigrate en masse
to the Land of Israel. In return, the legend states, the Gentile nations
promised not persecute the Jews too harshly. By rebelling against this
pact, they argued, the Jewish People were engaging in open rebellion
In fact, this position was adopted by the bulk of the Orthodox world (with the exception
of a small faction of Orthodox
Zionists, led by Chief
Rabbi Abraham Kook and his followers) well up until the United
Nations voted to partition Palestine on November 29, 1947. Representatives
of another Orthodox party, Agudat Israel, actually asked the General
Assembly to vote against partition. Tensions were at their highest between
the Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish communities in Palestine in the 1920s,
following the assassination of Jakob de Haan, a Dutch poet, former Zionist,
and spokesman for Agudat Israel against
the creation of a Jewish State.
Nevertheless, Agudat Israel reevaluated its position
upon the establishment of Israel and has been a participant in most
governments since that time (though it still will not accept a ministerial
portfolio as a result).
This switch of allegiance by Agudat Israel caused a
radical shift in the ideology of Neturei Karta, which felt betrayed
by their Orthodox Allies. Their attacks against Israel and Zionism became
all the more extreme, especially under the leadership of Rabbi Amram
Blau and his wife, a convert and former member of the French Resistance,
who had rescued Blau during the Holocaust.
The community became more insular, while forming alliances with other
sects that rejected the pragmatic support given by Agudat Israel to
Israel's secular government after independence. Among their allies were
the large and affluent Hasidic group Satmar, under the leadership of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, formerly
of Hungary and later of New York City, as well as other hassidic groups,
some in Israel and others in the Diaspora. With their help, Neturei
Karta was able to withstand paying taxes to the state that they did
not recognize and conversely, to avoid obtaining any benefits from that
state by revitalizing the halukah distribution of funds that characterized
earlier generations. As such they became a self-contained community
within Israel with few formal ties to the surrounding political infrastructure.
While many in Neturei Karta chose to simply ignore
the State of Israel, a fringe element took proactive steps to condemn
it and bring about its eventual dismantling until the coming of the
Messiah. Chief among these is Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, Neturei Karta's self-proclaimed
"Foreign Minister," who serves in Yasser
Arafat's cabinet as Minister for Jewish Affairs.
Hirsch and his followers oppose Israel on religious
grounds. Devoutly committed to their faith, they reject Jews who do
not share their level of observance as heretics. Nevertheless, they
also maintain that an Orthodox community of Jews can and should be a
viable minority in an Arab-dominated Palestinian state. According to
their ideology, the Jews were first sent into exile for their sins,
so that a secular Jewish presence in Israel could be grounds for further
expulsions and exile. At their most extreme, they claim that the Holocaust was divine punishment for the sins of secular Jews, but at the same
time they also believe that the time will come when all Jews will repent
or be lost and the Messiah will come to redeem them. Their website claims
that the Zionists deliberately condemned thousands of Jews to die in
Nazi gas chambers, rather than allow them to emigrate to destinations
other than Palestine, in order for the Zionists to claim a Zionist State.
They also claim that the mass media deliberately downplays
their viewpoint and makes them out to be just a few, while there are
a large number of Jews with the same beliefs.