Neturei Karta: A Deep Dive into Controversy

Many people will have seen photos on social media of men in traditional Jewish dress carrying banners and placards condemning the existence of the State of Israel. These men are members of the Neturei Karta and every anti-Zionist’s to go example of anti-Zionist Jews. But few people know much about this fringe sect or how little they reflect the sentiments of the wider Jewish community.

Neturei Karta, meaning “Guardians of the City,” an extreme Orthodox Jewish sect, is perhaps most notorious for its staunch opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel. Their views and actions have placed them in a controversial position both within and outside the Jewish community. However, their ideological and behavioural peculiarities extend beyond mere anti-Zionism, touching upon issues of religious observance, social values, and political affiliations that have sparked widespread criticism.

Religious Observance and Shabbat

Contrary to what might be expected from a group that adheres strictly to Halacha (Jewish law), there have been allegations that members of Neturei Karta have violated the Shabbat (Sabbath) in pursuit of their anti-Zionist activities.

Observing Shabbat is a cornerstone of Jewish law, involving abstaining from work and certain activities from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Violating Shabbat for political reasons is seen by many in the Orthodox Jewish community as a profound transgression, highlighting a contentious aspect of Neturei Karta’s practice of Judaism.

Social Values: Homophobia and Misogyny

Neturei Karta has also been criticised for espousing views that are considered homophobic and misogynistic. Their strict interpretation of Jewish texts and laws often translates into vocal opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and a rigid adherence to traditional gender roles, which many find oppressive and discriminatory. Such positions reflect broader issues of intolerance and exclusion.

Messianic Beliefs and the Future of Israel

Neturei Karta ideology is based on the “Three Oaths” in the Babylonian Talmud (Ketubot 110b – Ketubot 111a). It is not Jewish law.

Neturei Karta holds a distinct belief regarding the arrival of the Moshiach (Messiah) and the subsequent fate of the land of Israel. They adhere to the view that upon the Messiah’s arrival, a divine transformation will occur, leading to a scenario where the land of Israel will be exclusively for the Jewish people. According to this belief, those who are not Jewish will be driven out of Israel.

Such beliefs highlight the group’s anticipation of a divinely orchestrated redemption process, which contrasts sharply with the secular, political foundations of Zionism and the modern State of Israel. It also raises complex questions about religious tolerance, coexistence, and the rights of non-Jewish inhabitants of the land, issues that are deeply relevant in contemporary discussions about the nature of the Israeli state and its demographic future.

Holocaust Denial Conference Participation

Perhaps one of the most controversial actions attributed to Neturei Karta is their participation in a Holocaust denial conference. This event, which sought to question and minimize the historical reality of the Holocaust, was widely condemned by the global community, including Jewish organizations and leaders. By attending such a conference, members of Neturei Karta were accused of lending Jewish legitimacy to Holocaust denial, a stance seen as deeply offensive and betraying the memory of the six million Jews who perished.

Community and Criticism

Living in tight-knit communities primarily in Jerusalem, New York, and London, Neturei Karta’s members maintain a lifestyle deeply rooted in devout religious observance and traditional dress. Despite their isolation from mainstream Jewish and secular societies, their controversial actions have thrust them into the international spotlight, drawing criticism not only for their political stances but also for their social values and alleged religious transgressions.

Physical Altercations and Violence

Neturei Karta’s interactions with other Haredi (strictly Orthodox Jewish) groups have not always been peaceful or purely ideological. There have been instances when they have escalated their behaviour into physical confrontations with other Haredi Jews who do not share their extreme views. Such incidents of violence, albeit not widespread, have contributed to the group’s controversial image. The use of physical force, especially among groups dedicated to religious piety and Torah study, is particularly jarring and further isolates Neturei Karta from mainstream Jewish orthodoxy.

The Quenelle Gesture

Members of Neturei Karta have also been documented performing the “Quenelle” gesture, which is widely recognized as antisemitic and linked to Holocaust denial. The gesture, popularised by French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, has been condemned internationally for its derogatory and hateful symbolism. By adopting such a gesture, members of Neturei Karta have not only aligned themselves with overtly antisemitic elements but have also further alienated themselves from the global Jewish community, which views the gesture as a grave insult to the memory of Holocaust victims.

Herem (Excommunication)

Perhaps one of the most significant measures taken against Neturei Karta by the Jewish community is their declaration of herem, or excommunication, by several Jewish rabbinical courts (Bet Din). This rare and severe action is reserved for those who egregiously violate Jewish law or communal norms. Being placed in herem signifies a complete severance from the community, effectively isolating the group and marking its members as outliers within the Jewish world. This step underscores the gravity with which their actions and beliefs are viewed by mainstream Jewish authorities.

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