Visiting the Ayatollahs Part 1: Neturei Karta

NK members hand out anti-Israel fliers in Montreal, 2009 (Wikmedia Commons)

Despite being the world’s biggest backer of terrorism and human rights abuses, the Islamic Republic receives external rhetorical support from some unlikely quarters in the West. In this mini-series, UANI examines some of Tehran’s foreign visitors and admirers, starting with Neturei Karta (NK).

Founded in 1938, NK is a small but international ultra-Orthodox group that advocates unrelentingly for the destruction of the contemporary State of Israel, with much of its leadership based in Brooklyn and Monsey, New York. Described by some, (such as Daniel Sugarman, Director of Public Affairs for the Board of Deputies of British Jews) as “the Westboro Baptist Church of Judaism,” for its extremist rhetoric, NK believes that the political creation of Israel in 1948 was an evil aberration, for only God can restore Jewish sovereignty over that land by bringing the Messiah. The mainstream Hasidic community shuns NK.

NK’s ideology aligns with the anti-Israel eliminationist goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its terror partners and proxies. Consequently, NK is regularly endorsed and feted by the Iranian regime, even meeting with notorious former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2006, NK participated in a conference in Tehran that promoted Holocaust denial 

NK Mourns the Butcher of Tehran

Most recently, the regime invited NK, including Rabbi and NK spokesperson Yisroel Dovid Weiss, to Iran to attend the funeral of President Ebrahim Raisi. Known as “The Butcher of Tehran for his role in the regime’s killing of thousands of prisoners in the late 1980s, Raisi was killed unexpectedly in a helicopter crash on May 19. Never one to miss an opportunity, Iran arranged for its English-language propaganda newspaper, the Tehran Times, to interview the NK leader. 

His remarks were music to the Ayatollah’s ears.

Asked if he believed there was a connection between Israel’s actions in Gaza and the recent rise in antisemitism, Weiss explained that the dictionary definition for antisemitism should be the “Zionist state of Israel.” According to Weiss, there is nothing more antisemitic in the world than Israel, and antisemitism was on the rise because people “affected by Israeli propaganda” believe every Jew is a supporter of Israel.

In manifest contradiction to the historical record, Weiss told the Times that there has “never been a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews”—implying that Jews are wrong to have reservations about the end of the Jewish State—and that there was no doubt that Israel would be dismantled because that was the “promise of God.”

In the immediate wake of the helicopter crash in northern Iran, NK released an official statement offering condolences for the death of “the honorable president” and his delegation. The letter, signed by NK Rabbis Weiss from the United States, Meir Hirsh from Israel, Slomo Wasserstein from Canada, and Elhanan Beck from the United Kingdom, said that Iran had lost “great leaders” and that, as Jews, the signatories mourn the “loss of men who had a special friendship and expressed exceptional warmth and respect to Jews, the worldwide Jewish community, Judaism, and of course to the flourishing Jewish community in Iran.”

The rabbis noted that they had the opportunity to meet both “great men” [Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian] while witnessing their “wisdom, friendship, and hospitality firsthand.” The Rabbis called on God to bring “condolences” to their families and the entire nation of Iran and that their souls would “be blessed by the Almighty and rest in peace.” Towards the end of their letter, the rabbis labeled Raisi an “amazing leader” for the people of Iran, the country of Iran, and “a wonderful human being with a good heart who wanted what was best for humanity.”

This is all despite many Iranians celebrating in the streets and setting off fireworks at the news. Many in the diaspora likewise expressed their delight at Raisi’s demise.

Then, two days after NK released its condolence letter, the organization sent a delegation to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York to deliver the signed statement. Upon receiving the delegation, Ambassador Saeed Iravani expressed his appreciation for them and their message. 

The same day that the delegation arrived at the UN to deliver their signed statement of condolences to the Islamic Republic’s representative, NK announced on their website that another delegation had arrived to attend the funeral of the deceased Iranian president and foreign minister, markingthe “continuation of many years of close friendships between Jews and Iran.”

Asked about his visit, Weiss told the Times that he had met with Raisi more than once and saw him once in the Iranian city of Mashhad before Raisi became president. Weiss added that he saw Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian last year in New York during Raisi’s visit to the United Nations. “We felt very comfortable talking to them,” Weiss said. “They treated us with kindness and friendship. Mr. Raisi even tried to comfort me by saying that he knows we come under attack because of what Israel is doing,” 

Following Raisi’s death, Weiss told the Tehran Times that Jewish communities from “all over the world” asked him to travel to Iran to “offer condolences on behalf of the Jews.” Weiss described the ceremonies he attended in Tehran as “unlike anything” he had ever seen.

He noted that millions of Iranian people came out to offer their respect to the late Iranian president, purportedly proving that Raisi was “truly a well-respected and popular man in Iran.”

NK’s Pro-Hamas Advocacy

Rabbi Weiss also gave an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency [IRNA] to explore the “Zionist tactic to silence the voices of righteous people who speak up for Palestine, by asking, ‘Do you condemn Hamas?’” Weiss referenced Secretary-General António Guterres’ statements in October of last year, where the UN chief stated that Hamas' attack “did not happen in a vacuum.

Weiss told his interviewers that rather than focusing solely on October 7, the world should consider historical events such as Israel's peace agreements with Arab nations like Egypt via the Camp David Accords and efforts by various Israeli leaders, both left and right, to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians, attributing blame for the current situation to the “Zionists.”

Regarding the brave young men and women of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) who have for years fought to defend their country against Hamas and other Islamic terrorist threats, currently engaged in dangerous urban warfare against Hamas. Why are they dying? Well, according to Weiss, they died because of “the occupation” because, of course, they did.

Thus, the solution to the ongoing conflict is not the destruction of Hamas, which he described as “satanic,” but the “removal of the impediment to peace,” which is the "eradication of the state of Israel." Genius!

Remarkably, NK also operates in Israel itself, the very country they aim to dismantle. Speaking to Reuters in early August of 2007, NK's leader in Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Hirsch, explained his contentious views from his home in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem. Hirsch's father once advised former Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat on Jewish affairs. The group’s alignment and support for figures like Arafat and terrorist groups such as Hamas have led many in the Jewish community to denounce their cause. 

Regarding the October 7 massacre by the Islamic Republic-backed Hamas terrorist group, resulting in the deaths of around 1,200 Israelis and  250 hostages, including innocent Israelis and American citizens, one would expect NK to unequivocally condemn such actions and call on the world to stand with Israel against Iran and its terrorist proxies right? 

Wrong! The group, like many American college students nationwide, condemned Israel's military response against Hamas. 

On October 24, 2023, in Englewood, New Jersey, weeks after the Hamas attack (because why not?), NK Rabbi Dovid Feldman and his crew decided to grace a city council meeting with their presence after the council dared to condemn Hamas. Moving swiftly to December 2023, NK Rabbi Feldman took his act to the UN Headquarters, joining the pro-Hamas choir in chanting “Free Palestine” and lecturing everyone about how anti-Zionism is not antisemitism (apparently, the irony was lost on them). Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, NK Rabbi Yitzchok Deutsch and pro-Hamas groups like Workers for Palestine found time to berate AIPAC for, you guessed it, silencing “every righteous person.”

NK Rabbi Elhanan Beck went so far as to tell the Andalou Agency, the Turkish state-run news agency, that "October 7 didn't start on October 7," but instead on the day the Jewish state was re-established on May 15, 1948. Beck, like a well-informed college student from Columbia University, added that October 7 was a result of the infamous "Nakba," which, according to many academics, young and bright American college students, and eventhe Islamic Republic of Iran, resulted in one million Palestinians being expelled by Israel from 1947 to 1949, even though Arab leaders at the time told Palestinians to leave their homes so that their armies could wipe out people like Beck. 

“This [Nakba] happened, and they want to cover up their killings, the genocide, with more genocide, with more killings,” Beck said with a straight and sober face to Andalou Agency.

By February 17, 2024, NK members thought it would be fun to march near the U.S. Capitol with their buddies from the pro-Hamas squad, demanding that Israel stop defending itself and maybe dissolve already. NK and their pals also protested outside a synagogue in Teaneck, New Jersey, during an event that featured firsthand accounts of the October 7 attack in southern Israel by ZAKA, Israel’s search and rescue and ritual burial organization, while waving “Free Palestine” flags and shouting “intifada revolution” for good measure.

Fast forward to April 17, when NK rabbis thought it was hip to stand in solidarity with pro-Hamas students camping out at Columbia University (because nothing says solidarity like supporting a terrorist organization). Then, on January 13, 2024, NK International members jetted off to London to join a jolly pro-Hamas rally, proudly displaying antisemitic posters and proclaiming their deep disdain for Zionism.

Not to be outdone, NK supporters in Israel celebratedIndependence Day in East Jerusalem by teaming up with their beloved Hamas buddies, reminding everyone that “Jews are not Zionists,” and generally making a scene with Palestinian flags and burning Israeli ones.

And just when you thought they would run out of steam, on June 10, 2024, in Lower Manhattan, NK Rabbis showed up to rain on a memorial for Hamas attack victims, marching alongside pro-Hamas protesters while waving antisemitic signs.

During the CUNY campus encampment in May, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting (IRIB) news outlet managed to snag an interview with NK Karta Rabbi Weiss. Where else would you expect to find insightful commentary on Israeli politics other than amidst the tents of college students? Weiss told IRIB, “It is exactly because we are Jews we are against the Zionist Israeli regime,” as if his views represented the pinnacle of Jewish thought. Holding up a sign like a modern-day prophet, Weiss pointed out the absence of religious symbols in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, suggesting some grand conspiracy was afoot.

In a stunning display of deductive reasoning, Weiss concluded that the founders of Israel deliberately omitted any mention of God in their declaration to mask their alleged lack of religious sincerity. He then proceeded to dismiss the Israeli justice system with a flourish, stating, “Their justice system has nothing to do with the Torah and its teachings,” as if the entire legal framework of a nation could be summed up in a single soundbite. Weiss wrapped up his performance by expressing solidarity with Gaza in a way that would make even the most seasoned conspiracy theorist proud, asserting, “Since we are true Jews, we naturally sympathize with the people of Gaza and champion a free Palestine.”

Unsurprisingly, Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned Hamas-friendly media channel, also has a favorable view of the group and has highlighted its controversial meetings with Iranian officials, portraying them sympathetically. In March of 2006, Al Jazeera reported on NK rabbis meeting with Iran’s vice president and their endorsement of controversial statements by Iranian leaders, such as then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to “wipe [Israel] off the map.”

Al Jazeera’s coverage extends to NK’s support for Hamas. In March 2006, the Qatari-backed outlet reported on NK’s visits to the West Bank, where they expressed solidarity and “allegiance” with Hamas and rejected Israel’s legitimacy. Al Jazeera’s reporting has often portrayed NK as authentic representatives of anti-Israel sentiment within Jewish communities. 

NK is like Al Jazeera’s secret weapon for the “AsAJew” playbook, endorsing Hamas, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and denying Israel’s legitimacy—talk about hitting all the right biased notes while keeping the narrative spicy!

Despite being a small, fringe group, NK, like "Queers for Palestine," has also found common cause with pro-Palestinian organizations such as Al AwdaStudents for Justice in Palestine, CodePink, and other groups that openly praise the Islamic Republic of Iran and its hostile actions against America, the West, and Israel, all in protests in Washington, DC. In March 2019, these groups astonishingly gathered outside the White House to protest against Israeli policies during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) annual conference, ludicrously alleging AIPAC's mythical "influence" over US politicians. 

In March of that same year, Ariel Gold, former national co-director of CODEPINK specializing in Palestinian rights, tweeted a photo with NK members in U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s Washington, D.C. office, prompting Tlaib to clarify she “never met with the group.” Gold swiftly deleted the tweet and apologized, ensuring her knack for contentious encounters remained sharp.

NK's alignment with Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and similar groups in the West is a neat encapsulation of a broader trend of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment. By actively engaging with the Iranian leadership, collaborating with other like-minded groups, and participating in events that promote Iran's anti-Israel agenda, NK diverges sharply from mainstream Jewish opinion and inadvertently contributes to the propagation of antisemitic propaganda and Islamic extremism in the West. This collaboration effectively serves as a tool for the Ayatollahs in Tehran—a group of “useful idiots” aiding in their efforts against Western values and interests.

Elliot Nazar is an intern at United Against Nuclear Iran and a candidate for a master’s degree in security studies at Georgetown University.