|Founded at||Jerusalem, British Mandate for Palestine|
|Yisroel Dovid Weiss|
|Moshe Ber Beck (d. 2021)|
Neturei Karta (Aramaic: נָטוֹרֵי קַרְתָּא nāṭōrēy qartāʾ, lit. 'Guardians of the City') is a fringe religious group of Haredi Jews that was founded in Jerusalem in 1938 after splitting off from Agudat Yisrael. It is an active opponent of Zionism and advocates a "peaceful dismantling" of the State of Israel under the belief that the Jewish people are strictly forbidden from re-establishing sovereignty in the Land of Israel until the arrival of the Messiah. To this end, the group's members believe that the existence of a Jewish state is a rebellion against God as it did not occur with divine intervention through the Messiah.
In Israel, some Neturei Karta members also pray at affiliated beth midrash, having a presence in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim and in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. The group has stated that it does not keep an official count of the number of members it employs.
Originally, the organization was called Chevrat HaChayim (Society of Life); however, this name was quickly supplanted in favor of the name Neturei Karta.
The name Neturei Karta literally means "Guardians of the City" in Aramaic and is derived from a narrative on page 76c of Tractate Hagigah in the Jerusalem Talmud. There, it is related that Rabbi Judah haNasi sent two rabbis on a tour of inspection:
In one town they asked to see the "guardians of the city" and the city guard was paraded before them. They said that these were not the guardians of the city but its destroyers, which prompted the citizens to ask who, then, could be considered the guardians. The rabbis answered, "The scribes and the scholars," referring them to Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 127.
Generally, members of Neturei Karta are descendants of Hungarian Jews and Lithuanian Jews who were students of the Gaon of Vilna (known as Perushim) who had settled in Jerusalem in the early nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, their ancestors 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. Members of the Malachim are also prominently represented within Neturei Karta.
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 non-religious, while they asserted that Jewish redemption could be brought about only by the Jewish messiah.
Neturei Karta was founded by Rabbi Amram Blau and Rabbi Aharon Katzenelbogen. Rabbi Blau was a native of Meah Shearim in Jerusalem and was active in the Agudat Israel during the British Mandate era. However, by the 1930s, the Aguda began to adopt a more compromising and accommodationist approach to the Zionist movement. This caused Rabbi Blau to split with the Aguda in 1937 and cofound Chevrat HaChayim (with Rabbi Katzenelbogen), which was soon to be known thereafter as Neturei Karta.
Other Orthodox Jewish movements, including some who oppose Zionism, have denounced the activities of the radical branch of Neturei Karta. According to The Guardian, "[e]ven among Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox circles, the Neturei Karta are regarded as a wild fringe". Neturei Karta is sometimes confused with Satmar, due to both being anti-Zionist; however, they are separate groups and have had disagreements. For example, Satmar criticized Neturei Karta for attending a 2006 holocaust revisionist conference in Iran. Neturei Karta asserts that the mass media deliberately downplays their viewpoint and makes them out to be few in number. Their protests in America are usually attended by, at most, a few dozen people. In Israel, the group's protests typically attract several hundred participants, depending on the nature of the protest and its location.
In July 2013, the Shin Bet arrested a 46-year-old member of Neturei Karta for allegedly attempting to spy on Israel for Iran. As part of a plea deal, the man was sentenced to 41⁄2 years in prison. Neturei Karta has denied that he had ever been a member of their group.
Neturei Karta's website states that its members "frequently participate[s] in public burning of the Israeli flag." On the Jewish holiday of Purim, Neturei Karta members have routinely burned Israeli flags in celebrations in cities such as London, Brooklyn and Jerusalem.
While many in Neturei Karta chose to simply ignore the State of Israel, this has become more difficult. Some took steps to condemn Israel and bring about its eventual dismantling until the coming of the Messiah. Chief among these was Moshe Hirsch, leader of an activist branch of Neturei Karta, who served in Yasser Arafat's cabinet as Minister for Jewish Affairs.
Exile of the Jewish people
Neturei Karta stress what is said in the mussaf Shemona Esrei ("The Standing Prayer") of Yom Tov, that because of their sins, the Jewish people went into exile from the Land of Israel ("umipnei chatoeinu golinu meiartzeinu"). Additionally, they maintain the view – based on the Babylonian Talmud – that any form of forceful recapture of the Land of Israel is a violation of divine will. They believe that the restoration of the Land of Israel to the Jews should happen only with the coming of the Messiah, not by self-determination.
Conditions for a Jewish state
Neturei Karta believe that the exile of the Jews can end only with the arrival of the Messiah, and that human attempts to establish Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel are sinful. In Neturei Karta's view, Zionism is a presumptuous affront against God. Chief among their arguments against Zionism is the Talmudic concept of the so-called Three Oaths, extracted from the discussion of certain portions of the Bible. It states that a pact consisting of three oaths was made between God, the Jewish people, and the nations of the world, when the Jews were sent into exile. 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 gentile nations promised not to persecute the Jews. By rebelling against this pact, they argued, the Jewish people were engaging in rebellion against God.
The Neturei Karta synagogues follow the customs of the Gaon of Vilna, due to Neturei Karta's origin within the Lithuanian rather than Hasidic branch of Haredi Judaism. Neturei Karta is not a Hasidic but a Litvish group; they are often mistaken for Hasidim because their style of dress (including a shtreimel on Shabbos) is very similar to that of Hasidim. This style of dress is not unique to Neturei Karta, but is also the style of other Jerusalem Litvaks, such as Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv and his followers. Furthermore, Shomer Emunim, a Hasidic group with a similar anti-Zionist ideology, is often bundled together with Neturei Karta. Typically, the Jerusalem Neturei Karta will keep the customs of the "Old Yishuv" of the city of Jerusalem even when living outside of Jerusalem or even when living abroad, as a demonstration of their love for and connection to the Holy Land.
In support of Palestinians
In addition to torahnical opposition to the organization of a Jewish state in the Holy Land, Neturei Karta also criticizes Israeli policies of aggression towards Palestinian people, stating that the "brutal treatment of the Palestinian people [...] is in violation of the Torah." They have rejected the claim that Israel is democratic, citing what they refer to as racist, genocidal treatment of Palestinians. They call for the return of all Palestinians refugees to "their rightful land" and attribute the degradation of Jewish-Mulism relations, as well as the bloodshed of both Arabs and Israeli Jews, to Zionism, noting that before the creation of Israel, both peoples lived together in peace.
In the United States, the Neturei Karta were led by Moshe Ber Beck of Monsey, New York until his death in 2021. They affiliate with the radical branch that was led by Moshe Hirsch. Beck had courted controversy by meeting with Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has been accused of inciting antisemitism and of describing Judaism as a "gutter religion" (Farrakhan says his words were misinterpreted). In addition, after meeting with the representatives from Neturei Karta, Farrakhan indicated he would be more cautious in his choice of words in the future.
Relations with the Palestinians
After two men associated with the radical branch of Neturei Karta participated in a 2004 prayer vigil for Yasser Arafat outside the Percy Military Hospital in Paris, France, where he lay on his death bed, the radical branch of Neturei Karta was widely condemned by other Orthodox Jewish organizations, including many other anti-Zionist Haredi organizations both in New York and Jerusalem. Moshe Hirsch, and what Hirsch's faction described as an "impressive contingent" of other members, attended Arafat's funeral in Ramallah.
Almost a year after the Gaza War a group of Neturei Karta members crossed into Gaza as part of the Gaza Freedom March to celebrate Jewish Shabbos to show support for Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled enclave.
In January 2023, three members of Neturei Karta met with prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) officials and families of Palestinian militants during a visit to the Jenin refugee camp. The Neturei Karta members also visited the home of Bassam al-Saadi, who was jailed by Israel for PIJ leadership activities. Israeli authorities arrested two of the Neturei Karta members upon their return to Israel for unlawful entry to Area A of the West Bank. The Satmar rebbe publicly denounced the group for their conduct, remarking in his speech that "It is a terrible desecration of God's name to support murderers in the name of the holy Torah and God's name."
Relations with Iran and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
In October 2005, Neturei Karta leader Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss issued a statement criticising Jewish attacks on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Weiss wrote that Ahmadinejad's statements were not "indicative of anti-Jewish sentiments", but rather, "a yearning for a better, more peaceful world", and "re-stating the beliefs and statements of Ayatollah Khomeini, who always emphasized and practiced the respect and protection of Jews and Judaism."
In March 2006, several members of a Neturei Karta's faction visited Iran where they met with Iranian leaders, including the Vice-President, and praised Ahmadinejad for calling for the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem to vanish from the pages of time. The spokesmen commented that they shared Ahmadinejad's aspiration for "a disintegration of the Israeli government". In an interview with Iranian television reporters, Rabbi Weiss remarked: "The Zionists use the Holocaust issue to their benefit. We, Jews who perished in the Holocaust, do not use it to advance our interests. We stress that there are hundreds of thousands Jews around the world who identify with our opposition to the Zionist ideology and who feel that Zionism is not Jewish, but a political agenda. ... What we want is not a withdrawal to the '67 borders, but to everything included in it, so the country can go back to the Palestinians and we could live with them ..."
Iranian conference on Holocaust denial in Tehran
In December 2006, members of Neturei Karta, including Yisroel Dovid Weiss, attended the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, a controversial conference being held in Tehran, Iran that attracted a number of high-profile Holocaust deniers.
In his speech, Weiss explained that the occurrence of the Nazi Holocaust was irrefutable and spoke about the murder of his own grandparents at Auschwitz, but claimed that Zionists had "collaborated with the Nazis" and "thwarted...efforts to save...Jews" and expressed solidarity with the Iranian position of anti-Zionism. Yonah Metzger, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, immediately called for those who went to Tehran to be put into 'cherem', a form of excommunication. Subsequently, the Satmar Hassidism court called on Jews "to keep away from them and condemn their actions".
On 21 December, the Edah HaChareidis rabbinical council of Jerusalem also released a statement calling on the public to distance itself from those who went to Iran. The Edah's statement followed, in major lines, the Satmar statement released a few days earlier. In January 2007, a group of protesters stood outside the radical Neturei Karta synagogue in Monsey, New York, demanding that they leave Monsey and move to Iran. Neturei Karta and their sympathisers from Monsey's Orthodox community responded with a counter-protest.
2008 Mumbai attacks
One of the targets of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was the Nariman House, which was operated by the Jewish Chabad movement. Neturei Karta subsequently issued a leaflet criticising the Chabad movement for its relations with "the filthy, deplorable traitors – the cursed Zionists that are your friends." It added that the Chabad movement has been imbued with "false national sentiment" and criticised the organisation for allowing all Jews to stay in its centres, without differentiating "between good and evil, right and wrong, pure and impure, a Jew and a person who joins another religion, a believer and a heretic." The leaflet also criticised the invitation of Israeli state officials to the funerals of the victims, claiming that they "uttered words of heresy and blasphemy." The leaflet concluded that "the road [Chabad] have taken is the road of death and it leads to doom, assimilation and the uprooting of the Torah."
A radical breakaway faction called Sikrikim is based in Israel, mainly in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. The group's engagement in acts of vandalism, "mafia-like intimidation" and violent protests caused several people, including authority figures, to push for officially labeling them as a terrorist group, along with Neturei Karta.
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A member of Neturei Karta, a fringe ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement within the anti-Zionist bloc, carries Palestinian flags during a rally marking the 10th anniversary of the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah
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