Muslims and Neturei Karta

Reading Mas’ud Khan’s account of his recent exchange with Melanie Phillips ([1], [2], [3]), I noticed that he had mentioned Neturei Karta to her, asking her whether she regarded them as “self-hating Jews”. NK, for anyone who’s never heard of them, are the men in black coats and top hats who you might find at pro-Palestinian demonstrations: they are strictly orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism. They are not the only group of Jews who oppose Israel or Zionism, but most others are secular leftists and not religious. I am sure some Muslims think that their presence demonstrates that we are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semites; in fact, we do not need them there to prove that.

NK are a highly unrepresentative, extremist fringe group, even among strictly religious Jews. It is a commonly heard claim that real religious Jews do not support Zionism or Israel, something that may have been true when there were several million Jews living in eastern Europe whose situation was gradually improving, and saw no justification, either religious or material, to relocate to Palestine, even if they prayed for restoration to their “real home”. The Holocaust, even though it was perpetrated by an invader, and various atrocities committed by Poles after the war, and probably the threat of a return to Russian domination (Imperial Russia was notorious for persecuting Jews) and communism, changed all that. The centres of Jewish settlement simply shifted over the course of about fifty years from eastern Europe and the Arab world to Israel and the English-speaking world, so the attitude of rabbis to the state of Israel would have shifted as a state called Israel changed from a political idea to a political reality. The fact that two generations have been born in Israel and call no other country home would have undoubtedly changed attitudes also.

To date, one particular group of religious Jews remains opposed to Zionism, namely the Satmar Hassidim, which originate in a part of north-west Romania (which was, when they lived there, part of Hungary). However, you will not find large numbers of Satmars on pro-Palestinian demonstrations; you will only find a handful of NK activists. Satmars mostly live quietly in north London and New York, and a few other places. They are not anti-Zionist because of particular concern for Palestinians; they have those beliefs for their own religious reasons. NK are not particularly well-respected among their own people, not only because of their anti-Zionist stance, but because of the extremes to which they go with it, even turning up at a Holocaust denial conference in Iran. Most Muslims would baulk at that. Can anyone imagine how Jews see it?

We cannot rely on telling Jews what their religion says about Zionism based on what a small minority tells us. Perhaps we should not compare the NK rabbis to someone like Abdul-Hadi Palazzi, who is not a real shaikh, but we should remember how much credibility our scholars lose when they are seen to be cosying up to not only powerful non-Muslims, but also to the rulers of Muslim countries (the various Egyptian state muftis are a classic example). We should remember the scorn heaped upon Nasir al-Albani because of his fatwa that Muslims evacuate Palestine on the grounds of it being “dar al-harb”, or the scholars who signed the fatwa authorising the American presence in Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. Why would a rabbi who was seen as telling the Iranians and the Muslim Brotherhood what they want to hear have any credibility among Jews?

Besides, we are Muslims, not Jews, and we have our own reasons for opposing the foreign colonisation of one of our lands, whether it be Palestine or eastern Turkestan and whether the invaders are Jewish Zionists, French and German Crusaders, Chinese communists or whoever. Whenever the Muslim lands have been invaded, Muslims have fought, regardless of whether the invaders’ religion sanctioned it (usually, it did, or at least their leaders claimed it did). We did not oppose Zionism because of anti-Semitism or because our heads were full of Nazi propaganda, as some Jews have ludicrously claimed recently. Islam is clear on the status of other religions: they are superseded by Islam, and their scriptures, such as they remain, are no longer valid, which is why we see no problem with Muslim control of Jerusalem and its environs, under which Christian and Jewish places of worship and pilgrimage survived a whole lot better than Islamic and Christian places have under Israeli rule, during which some of them have been demolished, even cemeteries, to make way for car parks and luxury hotels.

There are also secular reasons to oppose the existence of Israel, let alone its dominance of the whole of former Mandate Palestine. The right of refugees to settle elsewhere to avoid persecution, let alone mass murder, is not in dispute, and if some of them put down roots in their new country, there is no problem with them staying. This does not entitle them to a state of their own at the expense of another people, particularly when that people were not their persecutors, otherwise we would have turned over chunks of south-east London to Somalia and Nigeria. I cannot think of any other incident in history of a persecuted people being given a state elsewhere after the persecution had abated, or of a large group of people being allowed to “return” to where their ancestors lived 2,000 years ago at the expense of the present inhabitants; anti-Semitism in Europe was on the decline and Jews were increasingly being accepted as normal citizens until the Nazis came to power. Of course, the bad faith of many of the western powers, which among other things took steps to prevent Jews coming in and sent them back to Europe, cannot be forgotten in all of this.

In conclusion, we should emphasise our own reasons for the Muslim claim to Palestine as an Islamic country inhabited by its own native people, the Palestinian Arabs, Muslim and Christian. We should not emphasise the Jewish religious claim that Israel (under whatever name) is only to be re-established by the Messiah, as we do not believe that, Christians do not believe that, and the Jews who believe that are a small minority.

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