Spy suspect denounced in Mea Shearim
Anti-Zionist factions in haredi Jerusalem neighborhood react to arrest of Neturei Karta member suspected of spying for Iran. 'This kind of espionage is like killing a Jew, and you mustn't kill any Jew – even a secular one,' says local resident
After days of rumors and public ads in Mea Shearim regarding the arrest of a Hasid suspected of spying for Iran,
the residents of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem began coming to terms Thursday with the indictment of a Neturei Karta
member charged with contacting a foreign agent and intention to commit treason.
The comments ranged from denial, through conspiracy theories to attempts to denounce the man, who "did not grow among us and is newly religious."
Yaakov Gutfarb, a Mea Shearim resident who prays in synagogue with the suspect, told Ynet about a silent and introvert person, "who is not really an integral part of the community."
According to Gutfarb, "It's hard to know if he really is crazy like people claim, but his children who study here in Torah V'Yirah institutions (which are affiliated with the relatively moderate faction of Neturei Karta) seem perfectly fine.
'Not an integral part of the community.' The suspect (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
"If he really did what he is being accused of, it's naturally not good and wrong as far as we're concerned," Gutfarb says, adding that "even Neturei Karta members, who support meetings with the enemies of the State of Israel,
do so in order to show that we are not interested in provoking them and can live with them in peace.
"But everyone is against such an act of espionage, which helps our enemies in their war against the Jews. At the end of the day, this espionage is like really killing a Jew – and you mustn't kill any Jew, even a secular one. When you help with information and where to direct the missiles to, that's really something that must not be done."
The faction the culprit belonged to, Torah V'Yirah, is considered relatively moderate within Neturei Karta and is opposed to cooperating with the Arab world and the Palestinians against Israel. The group even split from its main stream on this background. Nonetheless, its members are also opposed to the State of Israel and Zionism and hope to see the country under foreign rule.
Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, a Satmar Hasid who holds an anti-Zionist ideology, believes that the recent affair was "concocted" by the Israeli security services who are trying, he says, to degrade Neturei Karta members in any way.
He refers to the person who led the group of Hasidim that met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
as "the anti-Zionists' 'Champagne,' (code name for Shin Bet agent Avishai Raviv, whose mission was to encourage and fabricate activities of right-wing extremists)." He believes that "in the current affair too, we are talking about an innocent person who was set up.
'Who knows what these cruel murderers are doing right now with our dear brother's blood' (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
"All this meddling, it's all politics," he adds. "I personally would not do anything that is against the law. Any lecture or performance, I check if it complies with Israeli law, and in the meantime there is a wide range. I know that (the security service members) are following my moves. They know when I go out and where I go and with who. There are constant attempts to get people like us in trouble.
"I was once asked for the number of an Arab MK, and I happened not to have it on me. The next day it turned out that he was suspected of serious espionage, and I'm not ruling out the possibility that they were trying to link me to him. The Hilltop Youth
are not the only ones who have 'Champagnes.' We do too."
A senior member of the Satmar
community, which some of the anti-Zionist factions in haredi Judaism are affiliated with, told Ynet that he and his friends "don't know what to believe and what not to believe.
"No one knows who to believe," he says. "Judaism is being persecuted here. They may be on to something minor, and have blown it out of proportions to slander all Neturei Karta, and there is nothing better than to say that we have people spying for Iran too.
"If it's true I would be ashamed to go out on the street. But we still don't believe definitively that he really wanted to murder Zionists. As far as we are concerned, of course, that's wrong to begin with." However, he adds, "the war against Zionism continues."
Israel Hirsch, one of the leaders of Neturei Karta who openly supports the connection with the Arab world and Israel's enemies, also says that despite the hope for a foreign rule in Israel, he and his friends are against helping the enemy in its war on the State of Israel, and are only focusing on explaining their anti-Zionist ideology in the Arab world.
"We want to live in peace with everyone," Hirsch says. "We don’t want Zionism in Israel, and as far as we're concerned it doesn't represent the Jewish people. We do meet with them (the Arabs) all the time, including with the Iranians, and we are now hoping to meet with their new regime as well, but we're against taking military action."
He says that knowing the suspect, he believes he is not "that type of person," but adds that sometimes people of his kind could get dragged into such actions.
In the past few days, before the affair was cleared for publication, the spy suspect's acquaintances hung pashkvilim (public ads) mainly in the streets of Mea Shearim, attacking the police and Shin Bet and calling on the public to pray for the man mentioned in the ads by his full name and mother's name.
Under the title, "Thou shalt not stand against the blood of thy neighbor," they wrote that the detainee was "rotting in Zionist captivity under harsh and cruel torture," and referred to the gag order placed on the affair as "Sodom's laws."
Detainee 'rotting in Zionist captivity under cruel torture' (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Other pashkvilim, titled "Zionist silencing," describe how the suspect was "kidnapped in the middle of the night in dreadful cruelty… Some 15 of the Zionist SS bandits broke into his home… stole many of his belongings… Zionist cruelty at its best."
The ads further describe how the man is "rotting somewhere in the dark Nazionist prison cellars," and call on the public not to remain silent and to protest against the arrest, as "who knows what these cruel murderers are doing at this time to the blood of our dear brother, our own flesh."
Israel Gelis, a Hasid who was born in the Jerusalem neighborhood, describes an atmosphere of complete shock and distrust.
"Go on the street, people don't even know what I'm talking about," he says. "A spy from Mea Shearim? That doesn't even seem logical to them. Even Neturei Karta know there is a limit. That being a spy for Ahmadinejad is delusional, and that it's a new libel. After the haredim who jumped into the pool,
there will be another story in two hours."
Gelis says that "the person under discussion does not belong to haredi Judaism, or to Mea Shearim. When I was a child they brought all kinds of lunatics. They told them, 'Here you'll be taken care of and taken in,' and so the place became a city of refuge for lunatics.
"He has nothing to do with Mea Shearim, he's from the outside," he says. "On the other hand, there are people with a certain opinion who live in the neighborhood, like in any other neighborhood in Israel. They were here before the State, and it's their opinion as people who oppose Zionism. They were joined by all kinds of weird people."
Gelis seeks to distinguish between members of the Eda Haredit
faction and Neturei Karta – the radical faction which split from them.
"Eda Haredit members are indeed distinct from the haredim who are in the Knesset, but they do business inside the State. Materna (a baby food company) in Kibbutz Maabarot has an Eda Haredit kosher stamp, and they are in constant friction with the Zionists. There is a difference between an ideological opinion and the shared daily life.
"Eda Haredit," he explains, "is a big group of thousands of people who live in Jerusalem but also across the country. They don't vote in the Knesset elections and don't take budgets from the State. They have their own way, but they obey the law and pay taxes.
"Neturei Karta came out of Eda Haredit. They are the radical version. In Mea Shearim we are talking about no more than two quorums, a bit more than 20 families – and they make all the noise. They are different in the way they dress, the way they talk. They have Taliban women.
That's what all the fuss is about."
Tali Farkash contributed to this report