Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Relationship of Jewish Nationalism to the Satmar Hasidim, the Neturei Karta, and Hadash

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta

The “ultra-” Orthodox Jewish religious community of Satmar Hasidim, the associated Neturei Karta activist group, and the Arab nationalist Israeli political party Hadash, also known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, are all groups in Israeli society which are active in politics. Each opposes Zionism (Jewish nationalism as the State of Israel) and either favors or has favored the de-establishment of the State, usually by peaceful means. The groups also support and reify reconciliation between the religious leaders and the political representatives of the faiths and nationalisms of Palestine.

If these groups, significant numbers of members of whom reside in Israel, list the de-establishment of the State of Israel among their goals, what, then, if any, is their place in Israeli society and politics, and how do their views of Zionism and of the State’s legitimacy and authority (or lack thereof) affect the way that they themselves are perceived in terms of legitimacy and authority?

The Satmar or Satmarer Hasidim are a so-called “ultra-” Orthodox Jewish community. They are members of a religious movement which originated in a place that today encompasses parts of Hungary and Romania. Today, there are Satmar communities around the world, and the Rebbes Teitelbaum of Satmar of New York are the heirs to generations of this community’s tradition and authority. The brothers are the sons of Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum, who was the nephew of founder Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum. The charismatic Teitelbaum family and their congregations have financed the activism and the public and charity works of Orthodox Jewish communities, including those in Israel, and they have also influenced the religious thinking of Jewish communities worldwide.

Following the death in 1904 of Reb (or Rebbe or Rebbeh, meaning the leader of a group of Hasidim) Hananya Yom-Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, the Grand Rebbe of Sighet (or Sziget), in present-day Western Romania, and the subsequent rise of his first son Reb Hayim Hersch, to the position, his second son Reb Yoel Teitelbaum (b. 1885, 1886, or 1887; d. 1979) moved from Sighet to the town of Satmar (or Satu-Mare), in present-day Eastern Hungary, where he attracted the attention of former followers of Sanz-Shinyeveh, as well as those Jews who “saw an opportunity to embrace the rewarding warmth and informality of the Hasidic schteebel while remaining loyal to traditional Ashkenazic values.”

Within a few years, Reb Yoel had acquired “a small but loyal circle of followers that competed mildly with Sighet,” and later he became the Rov (town Rabbi) of the Hungarian town of Orshovah, where he established a yeshivah (Rabbinical academy). Following his brother’s death in 1926, and after seeing a period in which he and his followers “became a leading force among the Jews of the area that was once greater Hungary” “almost overnight” Reb Yoel became the Rov of the town of Krooleh, and eight years later he was convinced to return to Satmar by his followers.

Following his deportation with his family to Bergen-Belsen and the destruction of Hungarian Jews outside Budapest during the Holocaust, which claimed the death of several of his relatives, the Rebbe of Satmar was transported to Switzerland by Kastner and Himmler, continued to Jerusalem, and after war’s end, he established his residence in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. In 1948, he helped found the Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar, and many of the remaining Hungarian and Eastern European Hasidim, as well as many new members numbering 40% of the new population, would follow. The new community became “a thriving center of Hasidic life…”

Today, there exist one hundred twenty thousand or more Satmarer. The group is known for its high birth rate, so the population is likely growing. Outside of Eastern Europe, communities of Satmarer may be found in New York, Jerusalem and B’nai Barak in Israel, Antwerp, London, Montreál, São Paulo, and Buenos Aires. Today, the three largest communities of Satmar are in Kings and Orange Counties in New York. The largest is led by Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, and the second and third largest are led by his elder brother, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.

The Satmar community has an activist element, as the Rebbe of Satmar, or Satmarer Rov,  is the “spiritual head of the Natorei Karta.”

The Natorei (or Neturei, Neturai, or Neturey) Karta is an “ultra-Orthodox organization of several hundred thousand Jerusalemians” who are mostly “descended from Hungarian Jews that settled in Jerusalem’s Old City in the early nineteenth century. They worked in trade and craftsmanship, studied the Talmud, distributed charitable donations from wealthy Jews in the Diaspora, and later assisted in the growth of Jerusalem beyond its city walls.

Neturei Karta is Aramaic for “Guardians of the City [Jerusalem].” According to author Asher Arian, the community is currently made up of several hundred families in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel-Aviv. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, there are currently about five thousand Neturei Karta in Jerusalem. Group leaders have claimed, however, that their numbers have been deliberately deflated by the media. Outside of Israel, significant populations of groups associated with Neturei Karta can be found in New York City and upstate New York, as well as London.

The Neturei Karta, like the Satmarer, believe that the Jews were sent into exile by the Roman Empire, and that they were required by God and by the nations of the world not to rebel against nations which give them sanctuary, and also not to immigrate en masse to the Land of Israel. Therefore, association with the State of Israel constitutes “open rebellion against God.” They also believe that “the true Israel” can only be established with the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah or Anointed One). This view was “adopted by the bulk of the Orthodox world” at least until the founding of the State of Israel.

“For… the Neturei Karta, citizenship in a Jewish state is a secular detail of no religious significance since the state was not wrought by divine decree; for [other Orthodox Jews], it is outright blasphemy to support such a state, and hence it follows that obstructing it becomes laudable.”

The Neturei Karta and the Satmarer also believe that the existence of the State of Israel could be grounds for further expulsions and exile by God as punishment. Their website claims that “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.”

Active opposition to Zionism by the Satmarer and by Reb Yoel began during his tenure in Orshovah, before 1926. The reason for this opposition stems from dissent with the religious Zionism of the Mizrahi, which Reb Yoel and his students denounced as “dangerous,” especially due to the fact that it claims to be grounded in the Jewish religion, a claim which the Rebbe considered misleading to young religious people “who would otherwise refuse to associate with outspoken atheists [Zionists].”

In the 1950s, Satmarer Hasidim demonstrated against Israel in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. to protest against alleged “methodical oppression and extermination of religion in Israel.” “[T]hey have difficulty communicating the essential meaning of their anti-Zionism to perplexed outsiders who see it as highly paradoxical that a group whose chief effort is channeled into maintenance of total cultural independence should embrace a political philosophy that opposes any form of political independence.” Their overarching goal is to “convey to outsiders that Zionists do not speak in the name of all Jews.” However, it should also be noted that the Satmarer also do not speak in the name of all Hasidim, as, following the establishment of the State, “many Hasidim [were] among [the State’s] staunchest supporters, working as well as praying for its welfare and security.”

With the help of the large and affluent Satmar community, which loaned “financial support to various groups in Israel that maintain cultural and educational establishments of their own and refuse to accept government aid for fear of losing their independence,” Neturei Karta “was able to withstand paying taxes to the state which they did not recognize,” and “avoid[ed] obtaining any benefits from that state by revitalizing the halukah distribution of funds that characterized earlier generations… [T]hey became a self-contained community within Israel with few formal ties to the surrounding political infrastructure.”

After Orthodox political party Agudat Israel ceased to oppose the partition of Palestine and instead embraced secular Zionism, the Neturei Karta felt “betrayed,” and its ideology underwent a “radical… shift” and became more insular, “while forming alliances with other sects that rejected the… support given by Agudat Israel…” to the State.

According to Asher Arian, “there have… been reports that members [of Neturei Karta] have conspired with elements in the Arab world to rid themselves and their Jerusalem of the Zionist oppressors.” Neturei Karta member Rabbi Moshe Hirsch served in Yasser Arafat’s cabinet as Minister for Jewish Affairs, and other members have greeted warmly Muslim leaders such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. According to author Israel Rubin, the Six-Day War “intensified Satmar’s anti-Zionism and apparently increased the ranks of the militant faction.”

The members of the Neturei Karta who live in Jerusalem do not accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel, have avoided paying taxes, and do not depend on the State for financial support. Since they study the Torah, they are exempt from military service.

However, despite the evidence that the group is self-sustained and has a minimally-detrimental actual impact on the State of Israel (besides the impact of its vehemently oppositional ideology and of the reputations of the Muslim leaders with which it associates), a 1984 survey revealed that one-sixth of respondents identified the Neturei Karta as the least-liked group in the country, and also that many Israeli citizens do not support the group’s right to free speech.

The same study revealed that the least-liked groups in the country are “leftist and Arab groups.” The political party Hadash, known for its support for Palestinian and Arab nationalism as well as for its communist or socialist leanings, and also for Jewish nationalism (although related and unrelated Arab groups and ideologies oppose it), undoubtedly qualifies as one of such groups.

Hadash is an acronym which means the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality. From the year after the establishment of the State of Israel, until 1977, when it united with Charlie Biton’s Israeli Black Panthers, Hadash was known as the Israeli Communist Party under the acronym Maki. From 1977 until 1990, when the Black Panthers left, its official name was the Israeli Communist Party, Rakah, Black Panthers, and Jewish and Arab Public Circles. In the past two decades, it has periodically united with Balad, Ta’al, the National Democratic Pact, and with the N.D.P. and several other groups under the National Municipal Alliance.

“Once Israel was established… [Maki] remained the only political framework representing the interests of those members of the state’s Arab population who believed in a bi-national solution to the Palestine issue...” “For years, [it] was the only political body in Israel through which Israeli Arabs could express… their desires and dissatisfactions, and wage their political struggle for equal citizenship…” Maki retained this status until 1984. “It was able to claim that it had no part in the political decisions that had brought the Naqba on the Arab inhabitants…”

In 1965, Maki split between mostly Jewish and mostly Arab factions. Some of the Arabs founded the New Communist List (Rakah), which advocated “national rights in Palestine, equal to the national rights of the Jewish people.” In the election following the Six-Day War of 1967, Rakah gained seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) while the Israeli Communist Party lost seats. In this election, some Jewish Israeli Communist Party members still voted for pro-Arab nationalist parties.

Many Arabs began to cooperate with Rakah in the late 1960s when Rakah “began to cultivate ties with traditional circles in the [Israeli Arab] villages, including clan leaders, in the hope of harnessing their help in establishing a united front, which would become part of Hadash. In return for their support of Hadash in the general elections, Rakah promised its support to these circles in getting their representatives elected to local authorities…”

Rakah was “well-oiled and well-financed” and campaigned intensively, and Hadash-supported candidates in local council elections saw significant local and national electoral gains in the second half of the 1970s and in the late 1980s. In the 1996 elections, “the vote for Jewish parties decreased even further and the vote for Arab parties rose accordingly. This indicates parliamentary segregation, which is a result of the accelerated process of politicization of Israel’s Arab society.” Hadash was successful in increasing its power because it “managed to overcome the rift and unite.”

Hadash was “able to compete with alternative Israeli Arab political organizations”. It continued to receive support from Palestinian nationalists, while also persistently overcoming the contradiction of nationalistic Communism, subscribed to by “a minority of Communist party members.”

The Israeli Communist Party, Rakah, and Hadash were “breeding ground[s] for the… political leadership and the new… Arab elite in Israel.” These were Israeli Arabs, “a large number” of whom “acquired education, established themselves financially and helped to formulate a clear position on nationalist issues.” Despite this sense of establishment, the Zionist establishment continued to denounce Israeli Arab political leaders.

In 2003, Ahmad Tibi, who was the candidate for the Knesset of the joint Ta’al-Hadash list, which at the time had a surplus vote agreement with the Balad party, was disqualified from running by the Central Elections Committee for supporting resistance against the State of Israel. This was under a 2002 law that made it possible to disqualify individual candidates. This disqualification was subsequently reversed by the Supreme Court, and the Ta’al-Hadash union won three seats, giving Hadash two seats following their split.

In 2006, the Popular Committee for a Boycott of Knesset Elections was established. “[It] suggested that Arab voters take part in direct elections for a body that would represent the Arab public vis-à-vis the state – a kind of ‘Arab Parliament’, to replace the Supreme Follow-Up Committee for the Arabs in Israel, which traditionally consists of Arab MKs [members of the Knesset] and public leaders.”

Arab politicians and academics indicated their political positions to the Or Commission. To this commission, political scientist As’ad Ghanem explained that “since Israeli democracy does not enable the Arab minority leadership to achieve their objectives – by making use of the parliamentary tools at their disposal – it might be that the most suitable solution would be wide-scale refraining from participation in Knesset elections…” Hadash, however, supported participation in the 2006 elections, and won three seats in the Knesset, and picked up another in 2009.

While testifying to the Or Commission, Israeli Arabs were “not prepared to give… clear definition[s] of [their] national aspirations vis-à-vis the State of Israel.” Author Ra’anan Cohen says that doing so would amount to raising “territorial, community or cultural demands”, which could perpetuate ethnic isolation, deprivation, and discrimination. Cohen argues that Israeli Arabs focus on the issue of equality as a means of doing away with discrimination, but may not be able to explain convincingly to the public why this goal may not be better and more quickly achieved by the Zionists, whom are already in the position to do so.

Hadash currently has four members in the Knesset. It is an “ideological part[y]” in which “the primacy of the party institutions over the Knesset delegation appears in the party constitution and in its operative procedures… The party establishes the identity of the ideological authority…”

As of the 2009 election, Hadash lists its goals as the following: achieving a just, comprehensive, and stable peace between Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs; protecting workers’ rights and issues; developing social services like health, education, housing, welfare, culture, and sports; equality for the Arab population in Israel; eradicating ethnic discrimination in all fields; defending the concerns of residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods and development towns; protecting democratic freedoms; equality between the sexes in all fields; protecting the environment and environmental justice; and eradicating weapons of mass destruction.

In the past, in its various iterations and under its various names, Hadash’s ideology has attracted elements that may be thought of as violent extremist Islamism, as well as Communism and Socialism. While Hadash’s stated goals today include “achieving a just… and stable peace” between Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs, it does not overtly take a position on Jewish nationalism. While it claims to support “social services”, “workers’ rights and issues,” and “environmental justice,” it also does not overtly claim to be either Communistic or Socialistic.

So what, then, is the true political ideology of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality? In 2007, Journalist Avirama Golan claimed that the party had begun to deviate from its stance supportive of equal rights to Palestinians as a minority group, and instead favors a two-state solution and Arab nationalism in the form of a Palestinian state, and seeks a uniting civic symbol to represent both nations. Golan also claimed that Hadash found itself nearer to the democratic socialist Balad party (at this time, both parties claimed to favor Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders). Golan says that this relationship has caused the alienation of Hadash’s former base, the “militant[,] economic[,] and social left”, and that this alienation and Hadash’s weakness may prove to serve to increase the strength of the State.

Orthodox Jews such as the Satmarer and members of Neturei Karta who live in Jerusalem are typically self-sustained, do not benefit from most services of the State, actively assist in the charitable service of the Jewish people, have not brought arms against the State, and most can claim correctly that their families predate the Zionists’ families’ aliyot (ascents; repatriations to Palestine).

Among Israeli Arab citizens likely to vote for Hadash, all of whom support equality for Arabs, but some of whom may not support either Communism, Palestinian Arab nationalism, or continued Zionism with whatever borders, many are well-educated and well-financed, including professionals, academics, and students, and the vast majority can claim that their families predate the Zionists in Israel.

Members of both the Orthodox Jewish community and the Israeli Arab community that is likely to support Hadash have sought either or both spiritual reconciliation and political co-operation with each other’s leaders. Together, a Satmar Hasid and a Hadash voter who is supportive of the de-establishment of the State of Israel can claim both accurately and in their own and in each other’s defense that there are long-standing legal and religious precedents in Judaism and Islam, as well as in Ottoman law, that oppose the existence of the State of Israel in Palestine in its current form.

As of the 2009 Knesset elections, the three Arab list parties combined (Hadash included) held eleven out of one hundred twenty seats. During this decade, either the candidates of the parties or the parties themselves (the others being Balad and Ta’al) have, in the Supreme Court, defeated attempts to disqualify them on the grounds of alleged disobedience to the State of Israel. This means that there are at least 310,000 registered voters and Israeli citizens in the country who are willing to vote for a political party which has recently been accused of disobeying the State. At the same time, the 120,000 or more Satmarer worldwide implicitly oppose the existence of the State, although only several thousand actually reside within its jurisdiction.

Six million is the most commonly cited number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust during World War II. Today, the number six million is still significant to the Jewish community. It is slightly higher than the number of Jews living in Israel, and it is slightly lower than the number of non-Satmar Jews living in the United States. Also, the populations of Arabs living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the number of members of the worldwide communities of Satmarer, reach approximately six million when combined.

Today, the populations of both the Arab territories in Israel and Orthodox Jews continue to see dramatic increases, and the growing Palestinian Arab population urgently threatens Jewish Israeli citizens’ status of majority in Palestine. Given these facts, and given the increasing influence of and co-operation between Israeli Arab politicians and Satmar leaders, as well as the apparent legitimacy of the political, religious, and land-rights-based defenses of their anti-Zionistic viewpoints, it should be no surprise that the Zionist political establishment would repeatedly seek to prohibit such Arab elements from wielding power, nor should it seem any more farfetched that the modern secular Jewish community would encourage young Jews to treat the Satmar and the Neturei Karta as lunatics and outcasts.

The Zionist political establishment treats these groups as if it fears that Israel’s modern secular and pro-Zionist Orthodox elements may someday cease to attract as many followers as the non-Zionist Orthodox community. It also behaves as though it fears that if support for Arab parties were ever to increase unexpectedly following a period of sustained growth and / or a merger of such parties, for Israel’s legal system to fail to attempt to disqualify the parties from participating in elections could theoretically lead to an anti-Zionist coalition gaining a majority of seats in the Knesset. Not taking action should the circumstances arise would undoubtedly amount to the signing of the State’s death warrant, or, to borrow a phrase (or, rather, a phraseology) from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the legitimization of attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.

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