Cozying to Iran, Chasidic Group Draws Ridicule By Gabrielle Birkner

Cozying to Iran, Chasidic Group Draws Ridicule

BY GABRIELLE BIRKNER - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 19, 2006

When the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last week hosted a conference meant to cast doubt on whether the Holocaust took place, it was no surprise to see Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and prominent Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel among the conferees. But what was a group of New York Jews in black hats, long black coats, and beards doing meeting with the Iranian president who has called the Holocaust "a myth" and stated publicly his desire to "wipe Israel off the map"?

As photos of these piously dressed men standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Ahmadinejad were beamed around the world, Jewish groups — even the most fervently anti-Zionist among them — were sent scrambling to distance themselves from the tiny Jewish sect, known as "Neturei Karta, which in Hebrew means "Guardians of the Wall."

The sect, believed to have only a few hundred active adherents worldwide, believes that it is heretical to establish a Jewish state before the coming of the messiah. Yet, unlike other Orthodox groups with similar beliefs, the Neturei Karta align themselves with the Palestinian cause — holding frequent counter-protests at Israel Day parades, and meeting with leaders of the Palestinian Authority.

Documents reportedly obtained by the Israeli government during a 2002 raid of Yasser Arafat's West Bank home show that a Neturei Karta leader, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, received payments from the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Arafat paid Rabbi Hirsch $25,000 in January 2002, and $30,000 the following month, according to two correspondences posted on the Web site of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Israel's Center for Special Studies.

"They're self-hating chasidic Jews," Rabbi Hertz Frankel, who is affiliated with the non-Zionist chasidic Satmar sect, said. "Anyone who goes to a conference associated with the most vicious anti-Semite in the world, and sits with the president of Iran has to have his head examined."

Rabbi Frankel, the principal of a Satmar girls school in Brooklyn, added: "They need to be denounced and they need to be ostracized — and, finally, everyone has come to that conclusion."

The chief judge of the Satmar Rabbinical Court, Rabbi Zalmen Leib Teitelbaum, called on faithful Jews to distance themselves from the Jewish conferees who, he said, are "unfortunately on a downward spiral with acts of lunacy."

A fervently Orthodox group, Agudath Israel of America, and an Orthodox umbrella organization, the Orthodox Union, issued equally scathing statements condemning the Neturei Karta members who traveled to Iran.

The executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, called Neturei Karta "a radical, extremist fringe group."

"What's interesting is that the Orthodox world has taken special pains to distance itself from these people," the associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, David Pollock, said.

A member of Neturei Karta who returned yesterday after a week-long visit to Iran, Rabbi Dovid Feldman, said that while he does not deny the Holocaust, he believes that Zionists used the Holocaust "to create the state of Israel, creating animosity and terrible anti-Semitism from Arabs to Jews."

Rabbi Feldman, a 33-year-old father of 10 from the Rockland County New York community of Monsey attended the conference with four other Neturei Karta rabbis — three from Monsey and one from Manchester, England — and an Orthodox, anti-Zionist rabbi from Vienna, who is not affiliated with the sect. While in Tehran, the group, which traveled with a suitcase filled with kosher food, stayed in a guesthouse at the Iranian foreign ministry.

The men met privately with the Iranian president, the nation's deputy foreign minister, and various leaders of pro-Palestinian groups, Rabbi Feldman said. He said Mr. Ahmadinejad in their meeting stressed that he opposes Zionism, but does not hate Jews.

Rabbi Feldman said the Neturei Karta community purchased his economy class Alitalia ticket airline ticket to Tehran, which cost about $5,500. He said he did not know of any economic link between Neturei Karta and the Palestinian Authority. "As far as I know, this is totally wrong," he said. "If it had been true, what difference would it make?"