Did Satmars Bite Hand That Feeds Them With Anti-Israel Message at Draft Rally?

Mainstream Jewish Groups Angered by Anti-Zionist Message

Controversial Message: Anti-Zionist rhetoric and signs were commonplace at a rally denouncing Israel’s efforts to draft the ultra-Orthodox. Will the views damage relations with mainstream Jewish groups, just as they ramp up efforts to address poverty among Hasidim?
yermi brenner
Controversial Message: Anti-Zionist rhetoric and signs were commonplace at a rally denouncing Israel’s efforts to draft the ultra-Orthodox. Will the views damage relations with mainstream Jewish groups, just as they ramp up efforts to address poverty among Hasidim?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 12, 2013, issue of June 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

If you needed social services from New York’s fervently pro-Israel mainstream Jewish community, would you organize a tremendous anti-Israel rally in its backyard?

Despite assurances that it wasn’t their intention to do so, that appears to be exactly what the Satmar Hasidic community did on June 9, when they gathered a reported 30,000 men in lower Manhattan to protest Israeli efforts to draft thousands of ultra-Orthodox men into the army.

Satmar Hasidim are known for their anti-Zionist theology, but organizers insisted before the protest that they would focus specifically on the Israeli draft. Yet despite a strictly enforced ban on anti-Israel placards, speakers addressing the crowd in Yiddish voiced anti-Zionist sentiment.

“Today’s rally is a declaration of war against the enemies of God and the enemies of religion,” said the Monsey, N.Y.-based Rabbi Yaakov Weiss, who was the protest’s opening and closing speaker. “We hope the evil Zionists will not be successful in destroying our holy Torah studies.”

Speakers used the Yiddish word reshoim, or evil people, to describe Israeli politicians specifically and Zionists generally. And Rabbi Nachman Stauber, who leads a Satmar yeshiva in Queens, made a comparison in his address between Zionists and Amalek, the biblical Jews’ greatest enemy.

The rally came days after the release of a UJA-Federation of New York poverty study finding that 45% of Hasidic families in the New York area live in poverty. The mainstream Jewish community in New York has responded to this need in recent years, supplying substantial resources to Satmar through the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, among other agencies.

In the days after the rally, however, responses from the mainstream Jewish community suggested that the protest had strained ties with the Satmar community.

“I would call on the Hasidic community to think carefully — I would not connect our help to them to their policies — but I just very clearly believe that they should think carefully about the ramifications of such a rally here on these shores,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Modern Orthodox rabbinic association that condemned the rally.

The JCRC, which has particularly close ties to the leadership of Satmar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, defended the group’s right to protest, but objected to their language. “Sunday’s Foley Square protest against an announced Israeli policy was an expression of free speech,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC, in a statement issued in response to a Forward inquiry. “However, some of the speakers attempted to outrageously demonize the IDF and the government of Israel. We consider such rhetoric offensive and we categorically condemn it.”

Neither UJA-Federation of New York nor the Met Council responded to inquiries about the anti-Zionist statements read from the stage at the Satmar rally. And in the days leading up to the June 9 rally, mainstream Jewish communal officials displayed a relative indifference to the Satmar plans.

“I think that our constituencies and the people in our community understand that we can have some profound disagreements in some areas, but still share the sense that we are one people,” said David Mallach, managing director of the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation, days before the rally.

That equanimity is in sharp contrast to the attitude New York Jewish officials often display in the lead-up to public protests that criticize Israel from the left. The JCRC spent months lobbying against a March 2012 vote at a Brooklyn food co-op on whether the co-op would consider boycotting Israeli goods. Jewish communal officials secured support from local politicians and launched awareness-raising campaigns, eventually defeating the boycott effort.

The unequal response could be due to the unusual nature of the Satmar protest, which was the first massive ultra-Orthodox protest against Israel in decades. Though small clusters from the fringe ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta group often show up at public events to voice harsh criticism of Israel, they never number more than a few dozen. The last time observers remembered a similarly large group of ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting Israel in New York was in the mid-1980s, amid a furor over ads featuring a bikini-clad model on bus stops in Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem. When then-Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek visited a Manhattan hotel for an event, thousands of protesting Satmar Hasids rallied outside.

The June 9 protest was also unusual because of the participation of both of the grand rebbes who claim the leadership of the Satmar community. Aron Teitelbaum and Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, brothers whose rift split Satmar in 2006, both attended the rally, sitting less than 10 feet apart. It marked the first time the two had cooperated on any public event since their dispute began.

In a speech to followers before the protest, Aron Teitelbaum said that efforts had been made to draw attendees from across the ultra-Orthodox community and not just the Satmar Hasidic sect. Those attempts were boosted by a letter from a leading non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox rabbi named Chaim Kanievsky — a letter later shown to have been forged.

Event spokesman Michael Tobman insisted prior to the rally that the event was focused on the narrow issue of the draft, and was not broadly anti-Israel. “This is to denounce in the strongest possible terms the misguided impending Israeli policy to conscript and to extend mandatory military service,” Tobman said. “This is about a very specific policy and political issue. It’s just not about that larger meta-ideological schism,” Tobman said, referring to Satmar anti-Zionism.

Posters advertising the event, however, suggested a broader anti-Israel message. “The evil rulers in the Holy Land want to incite and seduce young men and teenagers to acquiesce to idol worship and to participate in the impure army,” read Yiddish and Hebrew posters, copies of which were obtained and translated by the Forward.

Additional reporting by Yermi Brenner and Frimet Goldberger.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathan-kazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.