What Have These Ultra-Orthodox Jews Got Against Honoring Holocaust Victims?

Neturei KartaHave you ever felt you knew less about a news item after you read an article about it? That’s the state in which an article at Haaretz by Oz Rosenberg and Chaim Levenson on June 26 left us. It was bedecked with a title that was puzzling as it was provocative: Three ultra-Orthodox men arrested for vandalizing Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

As if that wasn’t enough cognitive dissonance, the reporters explained that the three suspects (ages 18, 26, and 27) were not only accused of vandalizing the memorial as well as another in April (Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill memorial site), but their vandalism took the form of anti-Zionist slogans. It’s strange enough for ultra-Orthodox Jews to be vandalizing Holocaust memorials, but anti-Zionist, too?

Working backward, since when do ultra-Orthodox Jews (haredim) stand in opposition to the Jewish state? Since 1938, it turns out, if they’re part of Neturei Karta. Members of this sect walk like haredim and they talk like haredim, but, according to Neturei Karta International, their view of the Jewish state stands in stark contrast with most haredim.

Neturei Karta followers do not participate in “Israeli” elections nor do they accept any aid from “Bituach Le’Umi” (Social Security), and the educational institutions of the Neturei Karta reject any form of financial support from the [Department of Education].

In fact

Neturei Karta oppose the so-called “State of Israel” not because it operates secularly, but because the entire concept of a sovereign Jewish state is contrary to Jewish Law [and] in direct conflict with a number of Judaism’s fundamentals. … The Talmud … teaches that Jews shall not use human force to bring about the establishment of a Jewish state before the coming of the universally accepted Moshiach [Messiah].

Furthermore, they believe:

Jews are not allowed to dominate, kill, harm or demean another people and [they are] against dispossessing the Arabs of their land and homes. According to the Torah, the land should be returned to them.

Returning to the Haaretz piece:

At least 10 slogans were found on the walls outside the museum, with slogans such as: “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust”, “If Hitler did not exist, the Zionists would have invented him”, and “Zionists! You declared war on Hitler in the name of the Jewish people, you brought upon the Holocaust.”

In fairness, presumably these young men were “rogue” Neturei Karta. Though Googling the phrases “Neturei Karta condemn Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial vandalism” and “Neturei Karta condemn Ammunition Hill memorial vandalism” returns nothing relevant. Why do they invoke Hitler?

After reading the quotes over a couple of times (okay, about ten), I finally began to appreciate their sense of irony. The first two quotes are meant to be read from the perspective of Zionists who are supposedly in debt to Hitler because the Holocaust helped them justify the creation of the Jewish state. The third is some variation on that which I was unable to grasp; we’ll return to it. Anyway they seem like the extreme end of those who — foremost among them Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry — charge Israel with using the Holocaust to win sympathy and justify its aggression and oppression.

A friend who’s a veteran Israel watcher agrees and notes that “it’s really interesting what they’ve done.”

In rightwing, Zionist discourse, “Hitler” lives, if only as a figure to use to justify negative treatment of the Palestinians.

But, he adds:

The Arab world, in [Zionist] worldview, is ideologically consistent with that of Hitlerian fascism, and its genocidal politics. Therefore Zionism continues to make war on Hitler and Nazism. [For the young men, it's] a sarcastic way of criticizing Bibi and his ilk, but irony is important to Jewish politics.

Regarding the third quote — “Zionists! You declared war on Hitler in the name of the Jewish people, you brought upon the Holocaust.” — he writes:

Aside from it being a possible criticism of how mired in the 20th century the present government and its supporters are, it’s also a potential double entendre, if you take Bibi’s sabre rattling against Iran seriously. Any attack by Israel on Iran will result in massive civilian casualties in Israel, as well.

Substitute President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khameini for Hitler. Thus war with Iran

…may not be another Holocaust, but Israel has never suffered any substantial civilian casualties as a consequence of its military engagements, of that kind. This government risks that with its positioning on Iran. Therefore you could read the “responsibility for the Holocaust” rhetoric as though it were a warning. It would not be out of place.

What’s ironic about it is that they’re attributing responsibility for the rise of a new fascism and a new holocaust to Bibi, by placing him in the past. [Emphasis added.]

On the surface, Neturei Karta bear a certain resemblance to Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro (Kansas) Baptist Church members protesting at the funerals of war veterans with signs bearing slogans such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” But Neturei Karta deserves respect for its condemnation of Israeli oppression of Palestine.