20:52  |  10 December 11
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Chamber of Debate

ZIONISM - Jews against Zionism

A handful of Orthodox Jews have attended Iran's controversial conference questioning the Nazi genocide of the Jews - not because they deny the Holocaust but because they object to using it as justification for the existence of Israel.

With their distinctive hats, beards and side locks, these men may, to the untrained eye, look like any other Orthodox believers in Jerusalem or New York. But the Jews who went to Tehran are different.

Some of them belong to Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), a Hasidic sect of a few thousand people which views Zionism - the movement to establish a Jewish national home or state in what was Palestine - as a "poison" threatening "true Jews".

A representative, UK-based Rabbi Aharon Cohen, told the conference he prayed "that the underlying cause of strife and bloodshed in the Middle East, namely the state known as Israel, be totally and peacefully dissolved".

In its place, Rabbi Cohen said, should be "a regime fully in accordance with the aspirations of the Palestinians when Arab and Jew will be able to live peacefully together as they did for centuries".

Neturei Karta believes the very idea of an Israeli state goes against the Jewish religion.

The book of Jewish law or Talmud, they say, teaches that believers may not use human force to create a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah.




But how do Neturei Karta and other Orthodox Jews such as Austria-based Rabbi Moishe Ayre Friedman justify attending such a controversial conference?

Rabbi Friedman told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that he was not in Tehran to debate whether the Holocaust happened or not, but to look at its lessons.

He says the Holocaust was being used to legitimise the suffering of other peoples and he wanted to break what he called a taboo on discussing it.

The main thing, he argued, was not Jewish suffering in the past but the use of the Holocaust as a "tool of commercial, military and media power".

In what many other Jews would consider the height of naivety, he commended Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for wanting "a secured future for innocent Jewish people in Europe and elsewhere".

In his speech to the conference, Neturei Karta's Rabbi Cohen said there was no doubt about the Holocaust and it would be "a terrible affront to the memory of those who perished to belittle the guilt of the crime in any way".

However, he also argued that the genocide had been divine will. "The Zionists, with their secular pompous approach behave in complete opposition to this philosophy and dare to say 'Never Again'.

"They have the audacity to think that they can prevent the Almighty from repeating a Holocaust. This is heresy."

Neturei Karta's views are regarded with abhorrence by most other Orthodox Jews, according to Rabbi Jeremy Rosen of the Yakar centre in London.

"And I think, frankly, even among the Hasidic world, by and large Neturei Karta are regarded as freaks," the Orthodox rabbi told the BBC News website.
Vote: Should Rabbi Aharon Cohen be ostracised by his fellow Jews for saying that he prayed "that ... the state known as Israel, be totally and peacefully dissolved"?

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