Ultra-orthodox Jews protest against holiday

A group of ultra-Orthodox Jews passionately opposed to the existence of the state of Israel burned the national flag and draped black standards of mourning outside their homes yesterday, as ordinary Israelis reflected on the state's growing isolation abroad.

Neturei Karta, a branch of Haredi Judaism, rejects the Jewish state so totally that its members do not vote or use Israeli shekels. They woo Israel's fiercest critics, including the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The small group protests each year on the Independence Day holiday that marks the creation of Israel. This year, the protests come at a time when many Jewish Israelis are feeling sensitive about the path the country is taking. Israel's relations with its closest ally, the US, are at their lowest point in years over Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Neturei Karta ("Guardians of the City"), founded in the late Thirties, has lambasted what it describes as Israel's "aggression and calls for violence" against its enemies. The group is also an ardent supporter of a separate Palestinian state, and has sent several missions to the Gaza Strip. Members believe Jews were sent into exile by divine decree, and are destined to remain stateless until the coming of the Messiah.