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Anti-Israel 'rabbis' face fallout for attending Holocaust conference

Anti-Israel 'rabbis' face fallout for attending Holocaust conference

Jewish leaders from across the globe have decried the sight of six Jews with beards and black hats embracing Iran's president at a conference questioning the Holocaust, believing their gesture hurt the faith.
The Nazis' mass murder of 6 million Jews remains one of the most sensitive issues for Jewish people. Israel was partly founded as a haven for Holocaust survivors.
Jews continue to be alarmed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who since coming to power in 2005 has sparked international condemnation by terming the Holocaust "a myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
Despite this, a small cluster of Jews took part in the December conference. They say they went under the banner of Neturei Karta, a fringe ultra-Orthodox movement estimated by many commentators to number around 100, which does not recognize the state of Israel, and seeks its demise.
They believe Jews must remain stateless before the coming of the Messiah, and view the Zionist movement - which established Israel - as an abomination before God for founding a state prematurely.
Even before the Tehran conference, the movement had angered many Jews by supporting former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and having ties with Islamist group Hamas.
The six Jewish visitors to the conference in Iran regard themselves as part of the Haredi community - a very conservative branch of the Jewish faith, whose name in Hebrew means those "fearful" of sinning.
'Propaganda tool'
But even in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Mea Sharim neighborhood, home to many detractors of the Jewish state - including some who share Neturei Karta's anti-Zionist beliefs - many residents said those who attended the Tehran conference went a step too far.
"While we do not agree with the secular state of Israel, these people have desecrated the name of God," said Haim Freid, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who lives in Mea Sharim. "They do not represent us."
A spokeswoman for Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance body, said the group was "an unfortunate caricature that has been used as a propaganda tool by the Iranian regime."
Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger called on rabbis worldwide to ban the Jewish participants - who were from the United States and Europe - from synagogues. Agudath Israel of America, which represents tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the U.S., said despite their Haredi garb, the six were a "disgrace" and "dangerous" to Jews.
The two-day Iranian government-sponsored conference was also attended by Westerners who have cast doubt on the Holocaust, even though some of the countries they come from have made it a crime to deny that it happened.At the conference, Neturei Karta Rabbi Aharon Cohen said Germany had carried out "a catastrophic policy and action of genocide" on the Jews, but said it was open to question how many millions had perished.
Neturei Karta's leader in Israel, self-styled Rabbi Yisrael Hirsch, said while it "hurt when people deny the Holocaust happened" the Jews' participation in Tehran was important.
"The purpose was to reveal to the whole world that the Iranians do not have any hatred to Jews, they only oppose Zionism like we do," he said, surrounded by volumes of sacred Jewish scriptures at his modest home in Mea Sharim.
"We wanted to show that Zionism does not represent the Jewish people."
Hirsch, a 51-year-old U.S. citizen by birth who rejected Israeli citizenship, said he was unable to go to Tehran because he lived in Israel. Iran does not grant entry to visitors with Israeli entry stamps in their passports. Hirsch's father Moshe, a New York-born rabbi, was Arafat's adviser on Jewish affairs.
Neturei Karta, Aramaic for "guardians of the city," was formed in Jerusalem in the 1930s as a bulwark against the growing Zionist movement in what was then British Mandate Palestine. The large and influential Satmar Hassidic sect, which also opposes the state of Israel and believes Zionism is an "idolatrous temptation," is a traditional Neturei Karta ally but has increasingly distanced itself from the movement.
'Acts of madness'
Satmar's United States-based rabbinical leadership described the Jews' attendance at the Tehran conference as "acts of madness" and called on Satmar disciples and others to shun those who "give the go-ahead for the spilling of Jewish blood."
Many in the ultra-Orthodox world believe Moshe Hirsch, now taking a back seat in the movement, steered Neturei Karta away from its principles and represents a breakaway sect by drawing it closer to militant Muslim figures opposed to Israel, like Hamas.
Israel Eichler, a former Israeli lawmaker and well-known Haredi commentator, described their activities as "anachronistic" and "anarchistic."
Yisrael Hirsch is undeterred by those arguments.
"The majority of the Haredi world opposes Zionism in principle," he said. "We are sure one day Israel will cease to exist just like the Soviet Union did."


Updated : 2021-04-15 08:32 GMT+08:00