So recently I travelled to London to The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. I had with me a list of rabbis I was trying to contact who had signed a letter in the Islington Tribune in defence of Jeremy Corbyn. But as soon as I got there I was told "Sorry we can't help you" However they gave me the telephone number of someone they said might be able to help. I phoned him but he put the phone down on me straight away.
Not wanting to have travelled to London and to have wasted £100 on a train ticket... I just started stopping orthodox Jews on the street in Stamford Hill. Some said they couldn't help. But I got speaking to someone who took a look at the article i was carrying around with me and then started to phone someone. They were speaking in Yiddish so I couldn’t understand what was being said. But he put me on the phone and the person turned out to be a rabbi who told me he could help and to take his number. I phoned him and we arranged to meet.
I met with the rabbi and another orthodox Jew.
They told me the problem of antisemitism in The Labour Party has been fabricated by the media. I myself agreed as even though I have witnesses to antisemitism on the left there is no evidence that it’s any more prevalent than in general society. In fact it is less. We spoke for a while and after denouncing the chief Rabbi stating that he doesn’t represent them, it wasn't long until the topic of Zionism came up...
I've met with plenty of people who oppose Zionism for political reasons. But I've never heard anyone so passionately antizionist as the Jews I met that day – for reasons central to the tenets of their Jewish faith itself. They called the state of Israel "evil" "racist" and even made a comparison with Hitler, stating that Hitler was once powerful in the early days and that Israel will fall in much the same way.
They told me that the Holy Land was not to be taken by force, and that the formation of any Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah is strictly forbidden. It was interesting to hear opposition to Zionism from a religious perspective. They want the state of Israel to be completely abolished and they told me that it will soon come to an end because God won't allow it.
What was interesting is that what they were saying is in breach of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination. For example by claiming the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour. Yet am I really supposed to believe these people are antisemites themselves? Or perhaps a definition of racism which is more concerned with Israel than it is with Jewish people isn't fit for purpose? It seems the IHRA definition infringes upon the religious liberty of antizionist Jews who oppose Zionism specifically for religious reasons.
We agreed to meet again but next he is going to arrange for us to interview some more rabbis regarding the allegations of institutional antisemitism made against Labour. Before i was about to leave he gave me his card and it occurred to me who I had been speaking to. The Neturei Karta is a religious group of Haredi Jews, created in 1938 in British Mandate Palestine but now active globally, who are known for their fanatical antizionism. I've read about them protesting outside the Israeli Embassy in London and I’ve seen videos of them burning Israeli flags. One of their chants as I recall is "Judaism yes! Zionism no! The state of Israel has to go".
Zionists seem to think they have the right to speak on behalf of all Jews. They label anyone who dares to criticise Israel or questions its existence an antisemite. Yet not all Jews are Zionists and, many orthodox Jews oppose Zionism on religious grounds. But after yesterday it got me thinking...
It seems that from the point of view of the Neturei Karta, when it comes to Zionism and Judaism, you can't follow one without turning your back on the other. As the orthodox Rabbi told me. Are they two different things that really aren't compatible at all?
Further interviews to follow.