Hundreds protest group whose members attended Iran's Holocaust conference

The Journal News, New York/January 8, 2007

By Suzan Clarke

Monsey — About 350 people staged a noisy protest yesterday against an anti-Israel religious group whose members - among them a Monsey rabbi - attended an Iranian conference that questioned the Holocaust.

Targeted by the protest outside the Neturei Karta synagogue at 102 Saddle River Road were scores of the group's members who had gathered on the lawn. Neturei Karta is an organization that opposes Israel because it believes that only the biblical Messiah can bring about a Jewish homeland.

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, a member of the group, was among several Neturei Karta members who attended the conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month. At the conference, Weiss affirmed that the Holocaust did happen.

Protesters came from Rockland, Westchester, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Connecticut and other parts of the metro area.

Carrying signs that read "Neturei Karta, U R traitors," and chanting "Screwballs, leave Monsey," "Neturei crackpots, leave Monsey" and "Go to Iran," protesters used microphones and a loudspeaker to hurl insults at the organization's members.

Protesters accused Neturei Karta of being supporters of Islamic terrorists and pawns of anti-Semites.

Neturei Karta members responded to the invective by praying, using their own microphones, chanting, "We want to live in peace with all nations," and "Judaism, peace; Zionism, war," and displaying signs that read, "Let's Talk, Not Vent" and "Judaism Rejects Zionism and the State of Israel."

They also waved American flags. When they brought out a torn Israeli flag, many in the crowd became incensed.

Several people surrounded Rabbi Hilel Deutsch, a Neturei Karta member who went across the street to talk to the protesters.

He attempted to shake hands with some of them, saying the Neturei Karta group had gone to Iran to confirm that the Holocaust did happen and to try to effect a peaceful solution to the lack of peace in the Middle East. His offers of literature and explanations were rejected by protesters who were overcome with anger.

"I was in Auschwitz!" shouted Eli Stern of Monsey. "I was in Auschwitz. You would have been the first one in line to go into the gas chambers. I was in Auschwitz, and I was in Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. You have no right to talk in the name of the Holocaust survivors.

"You're a hillul Hashem," he added, using a Yiddish phrase that refers to an action so cruel it makes the world seem empty of God.

Several other Holocaust survivors were among the protesters. The crowd included a contingent from Brooklyn, which traveled to Rockland in buses arranged by the protest organizer, the Jewish Defense Organization.

Mordechai Levy, head of the JDO, said over the loudspeaker that Weiss and other Neturei Karta members should be driven out of the community.

"We know where you live. We know where you daven," he said, using the Yiddish word for "pray." "We know where you work. And we're going to get you fired from your jobs, thrown out of shuls (synagogues) and driven from Monsey. Neturei Karta are traitors to the Jews."

Neturei Karta members said the protesters were victims of Zionist propaganda.

Deutsch's daughter, Miriam Pollak, said the protesters were entitled to express their opinions.

"I understand their outrage," she said. "They were brought up differently. They have different beliefs, and they just don't know. Not everybody knows everything, but I feel that if they would understand the other side, maybe they would change their minds."

Benjamin Sherr of Monsey said he wanted people to know that Neturei Karta did not represent the majority of Jews.

"They wear the clothing of Jewish people," he said, but they are "wolves in sheep's clothing."

Several protesters said that even though Jews might disagree on certain topics, including the state of Israel, they should remain united in the defense of one another. Weiss' participation in the Iran conference was reprehensible, many felt.

"It's very painful, having these people call themselves Jews," said Linda Brown of Upper Saddle River, N.J.

Some minor shoving incidents were quickly broken up by Ramapo police, with 11 officers patrolling the area, said Capt. James Quinn. The town police had assistance from the Rockland County Sheriff's Patrol. There were no arrests during the protest, which lasted just under two hours.

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