It is perhaps well known that the founder of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, was born in Budapest and was a Hungarian Jew. So was his most loyal aide, Max Nordau, but also other important members of the Zionist movement, such as Hannah Szenes or Teddy Kollek. It is perhaps less well known that Hungarian Jews were also busy at the foundation of the Jewish anti-Zionist movement.
The basic aim of Zionism was to restore the Jewish state in the then Ottoman Palestine that had been destroyed in ancient times. Judaism has since then maintained an attachment to the Holy Land (see the text of Psalm 137), but rabbinic Judaism has developed the view that Jews cannot take back their ancestral homeland by force but must wait until the Messiah comes. This is the so-called ‘three oaths’, according to which, among other things, the gentile nations of the world promised God that they would not oppress the Jewish people too much, and the Jewish people promised not to take back the Holy Land by force.
To this day, some religious Jews invoke these ‘three oaths’ to reject modern Zionism and the State of Israel. Other religious Jews argue that since non-Jewish peoples broke this oath during the Holocaust, the oath does not apply to Judaism anymore.
This brings us to the Neturei Karta organization, whose name consists of two Aramaic words meaning Guardians of the City (referring to the parable in the Jerusalem Talmud that the guardians of the ‘city’, that is Jerusalem, are the pious religious folks and not the soldiers). The organization split off in 1938 from the Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Yisrael, which initially rejected Zionism, but later took a pragmatic stance on the idea and the Zionist movement.
An anecdote quoted by the left-wing anti-Zionist historian Lenni Brenner says a lot about the anti-Zionism of the Neturei Karta. According to this anecdote, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) entered into negotiations with Israel, these orthodox Jews wanted to break off relations with them, saying that the PLO had betrayed the anti-Zionist cause.
Stunning as it may sound, Yasser Arafat himself also had a Jewish ‘adviser’ at one time,
the Orthodox anti-Zionist Rabbi Moshe Hirsch.
Today, there are several other Orthodox organisations which are non-Zionist or anti-Zionist, some of which maintain cool relations with Israel, while others accept state support but are not Zionist—so there are many positions on a wide spectrum. The Neturei Karta is undoubtedly the most radical of all: they have met with the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of Israel’s main opponents and they regularly demonstrate in favour of Palestine and burn Israeli flags.
In their view, the Jewish state is not simply a violation of a religious commandment, but the ‘appropriation’ of their Jewish symbols, values and identity, and also the cause of a bloody conflict in which innocent Jews and Palestinians suffer. Critics of the Neturei Karta, on the other hand, say that it is a marginal, extremist group, composed of a few families who are fanatical enough to shake hands with people who are actively working to destroy Jewish lives.
It must be noted, however, that there are other varieties of Jewish anti-Zionism as well, including Marxist, Trotskyist and other left-wing anti-Zionist movements, as well as liberal ones (some followers of the religious reform movement, for example). It is also interesting that
similarly to modern Zionism, Jewish anti-Zionism also has Hungarian roots,
with one of its first prominent representatives in Palestine being the Hungarian-born Joseph Chaim Sonnenfeld. As for Reform anti-Zionism, American Reform Jewish anti-Zionists were brought together by Elmer Berger, who was partly of Hungarian-Jewish origin.
Another strand of anti-Jewish Zionism was assimilationist, patriotic anti-Zionism, which held that Zionism as a separate Jewish national identity was in conflict with, for example, German, French or Hungarian national identities. Lajos Szabolcsi was a vocal proponent of the latter in Hungary before the Holocaust, but this movement has by now been almost completely silenced.
The anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews demonstrating in New York are therefore not necessarily a curiosity. They are representatives of an old and historically legitimate school of thought, albeit completely marginalized and despised in their own religious milieu as well. Their presence simply demonstrates that Judaism is diverse, that there are all kinds of trends within it, and that it is not possible to treat this community as a single monolith. It is another question whether they should so openly stand up for their views when 1,300 Israeli civilians have been barbarously massacred by Islamists. As some Jewish Twitter users have suggested: at times like these, people of good taste should remain silent in their criticism of Israel.
 A useful read on the history of religious anti-Zionism is the monograph and works of Canadian historian Yakov M. Rabkin, although he is biased against Israel. Yakov M. Rabkin, A Threat from Within. A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism, Zed Books, 2006.