Out of Israel: Anti-Zionist Jews curry Arafat's favour

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The Independent Online
JERUSALEM - There are no half-measures when the Satmar Rebbe visits town. Five chartered planes, three limousines, 120 rental cars, 220 beepers, 310 walkie-talkies, 120 cellular phones and 100,000 cans of Pepsi have been ordered for the event.

'The biggest welcome since King David moved his capital here,' is how the ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem's Mea Shearim quarter are describing the celebrations, which will take place today when Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum arrives from the United States.

What is true is that the gathering will be the biggest ever show of strength in Jerusalem by anti-Zionist Jews. The anti-Zionists are Jews who refuse to recognise the State of Israel.

The Satmar sect, founded about 100 years ago in Eastern Europe, was set up specifically to oppose Zionism on the grounds that the establishment of a Jewish state would be a monumental error, contrary to biblical teaching, that could delay the coming of the Messiah.

When he arrives today, therefore, the flags the crowds will be waving will not be the Star of David, the songs they will sing will not be the Ha Tikva (the Israeli national anthem) and the chartered planes he will fly on will will not be El Al - all of which smack of Israeli nationalism.

The rabbi will not even pray at the Western Wall, sacred to almost all Jews as the remains of King Herod's Second Temple. As far as the Satmar Rebbe is concerned the Western Wall, inside the annexed Old City, is in 'occupied Israel'. The Rebbe, therefore, intends to view the wall from afar, on the Mount of Olives.

Over the years the Satmar sect has become the most powerful grouping of anti-Zionists and Satmar Rebbe Teitelbaum the most powerful anti-Zionist leader.

The Satmar sect is also the most fundamentalist. Those who live in Israel try to cut themselves off from the state, isolating themselves in their ghettos. They pay taxes (or else we could go to jail, they say) but they refuse to vote and they refuse to accept any money from the state.

Recently there have been reports that the Satmars have been paying Jews in Yemen not to immigrate to Israel. The Satmar institutions are funded entirely from donations raised by wealthy Satmar businessmen in America.

The sect is growing fast. When he last came to Jerusalem 11 years ago, more than 100,000 Jews came to welcome him.

This time they are expecting far more. That the anti-Zionist Jewish movement should be growing just at a time when more and more countries are recognising the state may seem ironic. But Satmar supporters in Jerusalem say it is 'just a coincidence'.

Despite today's celebrations, however, all is not well within the anti-Zionist movement.

There are breakaway sects which have recently taken their anti-Zionism just a little bit too far for the liking of Moshe Teitelbaum.

Sitting at his home in Mea Shearim, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, also an anti-Zionist, but a member of the break- away Natura Karta sect, is waiting not for the arrival of the Satmar Rebbe, but for the arrival of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Rabbi Hirsch has for a long time allied himself with the formerly anti-Zionist PLO. Now the rabbi is hoping to become the Minister of Jewish affairs in the new Palestine National Authority.

Rabbi Hirsch's beliefs are essentially the same as the Satmar Rabbi's, except that he believes that while the Jews are awaiting the return of the Messiah, they may as well let the 'indigenous population' of 'Palestine' (ie the Palestinians) 'reign' over the Holy Land in the meantime.

The Satmar Rabbi, by contrast, stops short at supporting the PLO, viewing Mr Arafat as 'a murderer of Jews' and therefore beyond the pale in any circumstances.

Satmar supporters are angry with the stand taken by Rabbi Hirsch and are fast trying to distance themselves from his views.

Not only does Rabbi Hirsch back a 'terrorist', he is also not a true anti-Zionist. The PLO, after all, has now recognised the State of Israel and if Rabbi Hirsch is a member of the PLO government he too, by implication, has recognised the Israeli state. His critics say that it would make more sense for Rabbi Hirsch to join the radical Palestinian opposition groups, like the Damascus Twelve, or Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

Mr Arafat, meanwhile, wants a 'token Jew' on his team, mainly to cock a snook at Israel. In his recent speech in South Africa, Mr Arafat hailed Natura Karta as true 'Palestinians'.

By appointing a Jewish Affairs Minister, Mr Arafat would be sending a cunning signal to Israel that Jews would be welcome in 'Palestine' - as long as they are Palestinian citizens.

The questions is, however, where these Jewish citizens are going to come from. Rabbi Hirsch says that 'thousands' of his followers have been inquiring about the possibility of moving to 'Palestine' .

'My job will be to ensure there is no discrimination between Jewish Palestinians and Arab Palestinians,' he says. The prospect, however, of large numbers of black-hatted Jews moving down to Gaza or Jericho is not on the cards.

Even Rabbi Hirsch admits that he intends to keep his ministry in Mea Shearim. 'I will travel to Jericho for meetings,' he says. 'But I shall also be calling for Mea Shearim to be annexed to the Palestinian State.'

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