Thursday, November 18, 2004

Jews as Enemies

From the first moment of our emergence as a nation in our final days in Egypt, we have been beset by internal enemies. Perhaps this is the fate of all nations. It seems, though, that the seeds of extreme discord are inherent in the idea of Jewish peoplehood, that we are stiff-necked and unruly and cannot avoid having within our ranks some who cause us harm. In short, Jews have been betrayed by other Jews.

The betrayal is at times expressed in words, as when Jewish writers give aid and comfort to our enemies. Walter Lippmann was world-renowned, bedecked in journalistic glory and greatly admired by American Jews, yet he was steeped in Jewish self-hate to the point of praising Hitler and attacking Jewish critics of Nazi Germany. There is also the example of Thomas Friedman, the Times columnist, who is less notorious and also less renowned, despite his over-developed sense of self importance. He recently referred to Gaza settlers as Israeli Hezbollah, adding to his long record of cruelty toward Israeli Jews.

Too often in Jewish history, betrayal has had tragic consequences. In the long and painful decades of the Inquisition, there were apostate Jews who were greatly learned and who played an active role in the persecution of our people. More recent episodes of extreme betrayal occurred during the Holocaust when kapos abetted the mass murder of Jews.

I do not know how to describe the outwardly religious Jews of the Neturei Karta whose intense hostility on theological and practical grounds to Zionism and Israel has been re-configured by the group's fanatical fringe into an embrace of those who direct and commit terrorists acts against Jews. Their most recent betrayal was abundantly on display as Yasir Arafat lay dying. These evil-doers who constantly seek media attention and invariably get it do not have a civil word to say about non-Jews, yet they make an exception for the sponsors of suicide bombers.

It's been said that only a tiny number engage in the most extreme and offensive acts. As is generally true of extremist groups, the likelihood is that Neturei Karta has a small fanatic inner core. But there are many others who are associated to one extent or another with the group and they have substantial ideological affinity with the fanatics. In an interesting way, the most despicable of the Neturei Karta are outside of Israel. The group is not tiny in Israel and it is hostile to the State, yet if only because there are terrorists in their neighborhood, Israeli Neturei Karta do not pay homage to those who murder Jews. There is at least one exception in Moshe Hirsch who has been on Arafat's payroll and who is as low as any Jew can be.

Whatever their numbers or dress or look, the Neturei Karteniks who identify with the PLO and Hamas are anti-religious, as well as anti-Israel, as they demonstrate when they participate in anti-Israel rallies that are held on Shabbos. They must figure that if they can desecrate G-d's name with impunity, as they frequently do, there is no reason why they cannot desecrate Shabbos. All is appropriate in the holy war against Israel, including giving encouragement to those who kill Jews. In our long history has there been a comparable situation of persons who masquerade as religious Jews endangering Jewish lives?

Those in Orthodox life who make excuses for these extremists bear some responsibility for what they do. Instead of Neturei Karta being ostracized, there are sincere religious Jews who insist that while certain actions go too far, Neturei Karta's message has elements of legitimacy. It is acceptable, of course, to criticize Zionism and Israel. It is something quite different to be associated with terrorists.

For too long, a code of silence has insulated the extremists against criticism from certain segments of Orthodoxy. There is a related issue involving the Satmar Chassidic group and there, too, there is a code of silence that inevitably encourages those who are prone to violent language and behavior. Satmar and Neturei Karta are not the same, yet it is true that much of the extremist group is embedded within Satmar, receiving financial and other support.

When a Torah scholar - a man in his nineties - came recently to this country, his visit triggered a barrage of hate-filled pamphlets, his apparent sin being that he is tolerant on certain religious and ideological issues. When he spoke at a large gathering in Borough Park, buses from Williamsburg brought hecklers who attempted to disrupt his speech. These were not isolated incidents but part of a pattern that has been allowed to fester because it is considered inappropriate for the Orthodox to criticize other Orthodox.

Within religious groups that tolerate hate, the most violent words and actions are often directed against others who are fairly close on the religious spectrum. Not unexpectedly, the most vicious manifestations of conflict erupt into occasional physical violence. This is happening within Satmar. There are two warring factions and they have not been averse to getting physical. Unless these people come to understand that they must act with restraint, what awaits us is, G-d forbid, bloodshed and Chilul HaShem.