Sunday, May 14, 2006

Neturei Karta: Who is to Blame?

Neturei Karta has been in news once again recently doing what they do best, making a mockery of Torah Judaism by engaging and pledging support to a movement that has sworn to destroy the Jewish people by any and all means available to them the most widely used of which is suicide bombings. A Jerusalem Post story reports of a meeting between Rabbi Moishe Arye Friedman, a representative of Neturei Karta and Palestinian/ Hamas cabinet minister Atef Adwan. There is nothing new here in this behavior. They do this kind of thing all the time as they did not long ago in Iran, when the met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and expressed their support for his calls to eliminate Israel.

Many people express outrage (correctly) when Neturei Karta is cited as an example an as representative of Charedi thinking and claim that this is a miniscule publicity seeking fringe group. It is, they claim, the same 10 or 12 individuals doing it every time and they represent no one but themselves. But that is only partially true.

While it is likely that these rabble rousing members of Neturei Karta are but a few individuals, it isn’t that simple. Their ability to call attention to themselves makes this a Chilul HaShem beyond description. But their philosophy is not as extreme as it seems. Their view of the State of Israel is sourced in a historical rejection of the State of Israel by almost the entire Charedi world. Before the founding of the State, Neturei Karta was part of the mainstream portion of Torah Jewry (with the notable exception of Religious Zionists) that was strongly opposed to its creation as envisioned by the secular Zionist founders, albeit the most rejectionist of the group. After the state’s founding, most Charedi leaders became resigned to its existence and dealt with in in various different ways. But not Neturei Karta. They were purists and continued to oppose the State. These individuals are the spiritual heirs of that kind of thinking and they act on it.

So we cannot just chalk it up such behavior to an extreme fringe element within an extreme fringe element. One needs to look at their context and see where they are coming from.

That there is universal condemnation by even Satmar does not absolve them of any blame. Satmar is a group that is well known for its antipathy to the Israeli government and Neturei Karta is well justified in the claim that Satmar are their spiritual heirs. Some of the worst venom against the State of Israel comes out of the mouths of Satmar Chasidim. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the rhetoric of Satmar and that of Neturei Karta. That Neturei Karta does the kinds of things that even outrage Satmar just means that they have carried their rejection of the State of Israel to an even greater extreme. True, they have crossed a line that even Satmar has drawn, but Satmar is in part to blame here.

But it isn’t only Satmar that is to blame. Even Agudath Israel has some culpability here. While they (the Israeli Agudists) participate in the government by running for public office, accepting government portfolios, and government funding for their institutions, they, too, waste little opportunity to bash the Israeli government, both of today and of yesterday. They curse the founders and often point out the nefarious deeds perpetrated by them to destroy Torah. An oft cited example is the claim that Yemenite children who immigrated to Israel were systematically separated from their families for the purpose of making them irreligious. While Agudists are loud and clear in condemnation of Neturei Karta they must share some of the blame too. Neturei Karta gets succor from stories like this which Agudists are all too eager to spread.

You would think that the last people in the world responsible for Neturei Karta’s behavior are the Religious Zionists. But they too cannot be completely be absolved of blame, especially the most extreme right wing Messianist element among them. While they are obviously on polar opposite sides of the religious-political spectrum, their recent condemnations of the Israeli government rivals that of Neturei Karta (for obviously opposite reasons).

So to say that they are a fringe element with absolutely no support is not quite accurate. They feed off of the rancor expressed by all these elements. It is high time for those who are so venomous in their attacks against the Israeli government to step back, and reflect on the consequences of their words.