US Orthodox slam Natorei Karta Iran conference attendance

'Besides the moral outrage, it's a real PR problem,' says sociologist Samuel Heilman.

natorei karta 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
natorei karta 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The participation of the Natorei Karta in a Holocaust denial conference held in Teheran last month, continues to draw the ire of Jews, but particularly that of the haredim who feel their credibility and image was threatened by the actions of the small anti-Zionist group. The latest show of opposition came Sunday when hundreds of Jews, mostly Orthodox, protested in Monsey, NY, where the Natorei Karta have one of their headquarters. Organized by a far-right Jewish group, the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO) that holds training sessions to teach Jews how to defend themselves against anti-Semitism, the protest was held outside the Natorei Karta headquarters and home of Rabbi Dovid Weiss who recently returned from the conference in Teheran. Weiss was one of several members of the group who attended the conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Weiss would not comment on the protest, and told The Jerusalem Post that he has a policy of not speaking to "Zionist newspapers." The protest was one part of a larger campaign, called "Operation Screwball," by the JDO to ostracize the Natorei Karta. The JDO Web site now features photos of several members of the sect with their telephone numbers and addresses, in an attempt to encourage harassment. The group, which is not affiliated with the Jewish Defense League, is calling on synagogues and Jewish businesses in Monsey to deny entrance to or association with the group's members. "We want them fired from their jobs and run out of Monsey," said Mordechai Levy, the national director of the JDO. Protesters at Sunday's gathering, who came from Brooklyn, New Jersey and other parts of the New York metro area, carried signs that read "Natorei Karta U R Traitors." They were met with equally provocative signs from the Natorei Karta that said "Judaism rejects Zionism and the State of Israel." The anti-Zionist group stood outside their headquarters with a torn Israeli flag. Since the conference in Teheran in December, some of the most vocal opposition in New York to the Natorei Karta's attendance has come from ultra-Orthodox groups such as the Satmar, some of whom ascribe to a more moderate from of anti-Zionist belief. The opposition stems in large part from a fear that the Natorei Karta will be seen to represent all of the ultra-Orthodox. "The anti-Zionists who don't do anything to hurt government officials, but who support their philosophy, will be most outraged out of fear that they [Natorei Karta] are reflecting on them," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. "We are hoping the media realizes that this is an aberration." Shafran said the Natorei Karta who attended the conference represent a "sliver of a sliver" of the Orthodox community, and he added that the Orthodox community has done everything possible to distance themselves from the radical group. Like the Natorei Karta, Agudath Israel also opposed the creation of the state. But today, Shafran said, they accept the reality of Israel and said the group has good relations with Israeli government officials. "Our basic philosophy is that perhaps the creation of the State of Israel would not have been the best thing to do at the time, but one has to deal with reality," Shafran said. "One does not coddle one's enemies, if one does one is taking a dangerous step." The attempt by the ultra-Orthodox to distance themselves from the Jewish men who attended the conference in Teheran, "is all about fundraising," according to Professor Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York. "Other groups recognize the appearance of somebody who looks like them, tars them all," said Heilman. "Besides the moral outrage, it is a real PR problem and they need to find some way to distinguish themselves." Though they seek to isolate and insulate themselves from the outside world, the ultra-Orthodox are "heavily dependent" on it, added Heilman. "The Teheran group has easy PR, but their opponents don't have that kind of option." The Satmar, because of a shared commitment to anti-Zionism, feel particularly threatened. "When the world sees someone who looks like me and goes to Iran and associates themselves with an enemy of the United States, so I have to raise hell and say I am not part of this," said Moshe Deutsch, a columnist for the Satmar newspaper in Brooklyn Der Yid. "Satmar has always stood against Zionism, but had its rules, parameters. These people went out of every norm and somehow it is presumed that's our position on Zionism."