WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than 2,000 haredi Orthodox Jews protested outside the White House against the excavation of ancient graves in Israel.
The protest, organized by True Torah Jews, the Central Rabbinical Congress and Asra Kadisha, took place Tuesday to coincide with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit with President Obama.
The groups represent a small minority of the haredim that still reject Israel’s existence.
Rabbi David Niederman, a representative for the Central Rabbinical Congress, said the protest had three goals. In addition to raising awareness about what the groups view as the desecration of ancient gravesites in Ashkelon and Jaffa, event organizers wanted to draw a distinction between the State of Israel and the Jewish people. They also wanted to protest the Israeli government’s suppression of protesters in Israel who disapprove of the excavations.
“Free speech and religion must prevail,” Niederman said. “The State of Israel does not represent the Jewish people.”
Protesters delivered a petition Tuesday morning to Israel’s embassy here, but Niederman said the embassy refused to accept it. At the White House, protesters delivered speeches in English and Yiddish, and they handed out leaflets to passers-by before delivering a second copy of the petition to the U.S. State Department.
True Torah Jews, an organization founded to distinguish between Zionism and Judaism, believes there should not be a Jewish state until God decrees one.
“We want to speak out that [Netanyahu] has no right to call it the Jewish state,” said protester Mordechai Rosenthal. “Jews have no right to a Jewish state before the Messiah comes.”