Holding placards stating “Judaism rejects Zionism and the State of Israel,” “Bibi’s on a world tour to fuel anti-Semitism,” and “The Jewish religion forbids the existence of the State of Israel,” dozens of radical haredim gathered in front of the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest against Zionism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress.
During the contentious gathering, punctuated with shouts of “Traitors!” and “Leeches!” by passersby, Rabbi Yoshua Scult spoke on behalf of the extremist fringe group of roughly 60 ultra-Orthodox Jews who compared Netanyahu and Zionists to fascists.
“We are here to unequivocally state to the American people – to the people of the world – that in no way, shape, or form do Zionists or the leaders of the State of Israel represent the Jewish people,” said Scult. “They are a political group, and they don’t have the right to hijack Judaism.”
Asked how Netanyahu and Zionists have “hijacked” Judaism, Scult said they are false representatives of “authentic Jewry.”
“The idea that Bibi presents himself as the representative of the Jewish people is absurd, because he doesn’t have a mandate to say anything,” he said.
“Mr. Netanyahu goes to the Western Wall and appears to participate in Jewish behavior, and then goes to America to give the president and people his opinions, and this is in no way aligned with the theme of authentic Jewry.”
“Authentic Jewry are guests, are sojourners, wherever they may be in the world,” Scult continued. “They must be loyal and pledge allegiance to their respective government and not attempt to interfere with their affairs.”
Citing the United State’s ongoing fiscal and political support to Israel, Scult rebuked Netanyahu for being “disloyal.”
“Not only does the State of Israel request help and money from America, they demand it, and in return the [Israeli] government is not a loyal ally and doesn’t show its love and respect,” he said. “This template is not native Judaism.”
Pressed to elucidate what constitutes “native Judaism,” Scult replied that Judaism relates to “a people who are loyal and guided by God and the Torah,” while Zionists represent a “political party willing to go to no end to achieve political and geographic goals.”
Moreover, Scult claimed that the Arab-Israeli conflict was created by Zionists.
“It is the Zionists who wanted to bring in a political, social, and sometimes very cruel government over the Palestinians,” he alleged. “Our issue with the Iranians will not be solved by telling Obama what deal to make. It will be solved when the Arabs today recognize what their grandfathers knew: That a Jew and Zionist are not the same thing.”
After calling Scult a traitor and engaging in a shouting match with him, Hersh, a British- Israeli man in his 60s, who requested his last name not be published, said he was disgusted by the gathering.
“They’re traitors because they want the benefits of living in the Holy Land – the police and army protection, which we all need – but want to deny the Jewish state and actively protest outside the American Consulate,” he said. “That makes them traitors.”
Hersh continued: “If ideologically they don’t believe this is the beginning of the redemption, then keep quiet and don’t demonstrate outside an American consulate, which weakens our position in the world.”
David Shnider, an Australian Jew visiting Israel, echoed Hersh’s sentiments after observing the protest.
“It’s a disgrace and a tragedy that in a country that is built on a spirit of love and mutual support you find this divisive act that destroys the very fabric of what Israel is about,” said Shnider. “They are not only traitors to the country, but to Judaism.”
Yoshua, a 52-year-old businessman who identified himself as a mainstream Jew, described the protest as “despicable,” adding that it made him physically ill.
“They live here and derive all the benefits of Israel, but don’t recognize the state,” he said. “The secular built the state, and because they did the religious Jews have the benefit of living here.”
“The bottom line is it makes me sick when I see people like this,” he continued.
“They don’t realize they are on the side of evil.
Everybody’s entitled to their beliefs, but don’t wave your flag when it comes to endangering your brethren.”
However, according to Daniel Berger, who participated in the demonstration, the protesters were simply expressing longheld beliefs derived from Jewish liturgy.
“In general, if you go back 70 to 80 years in history, the Orthodox majority was against forming the State of Israel,” he said. “It is specifically stated in our law books, including the Talmud, that it is forbidden for Jews to rise by themselves, or create any type of army.”
Still, not all the haredim in attendance expressed support for the protest.
“This is bullshit,” Yitzhak Levi said. “These are not people – they’re animals who think Israel is no good. They think Herzl is no good.”