A court in Israel today handed down a four-and-a-half year jail sentence to a man accused of offering to spy on behalf of Iran. Yitzak Bergel, 46, a member of the anti-Zionist Jewish sect Neturei Karta, had met with Iranian officials in Berlin in 2011. This is where he is believed to have offered to deliver information to them. Bergel pleaded guilty to all charges, including intent to commit treason and attempting to aid an enemy of Israel.
Bergel was detected by the Israeli security force Shin Bet when he contacted Iranian agents after returning to Israel. Following an investigation involving many members of the local community, Bergel offered a full confession and admitted that his actions were driven not only by the promise of financial gain, but also for a hatred of Israel. As part of his plea bargain, he was given a three-year suspended sentence on time of the custodial term.
According to reports, it was Bergel who approached Iran about spying. He is believed to have gone to the Iranian embassy in Berlin under his own initiative where he requested a meeting with Iranian representatives who initially thought that he had come to seek asylum. Bergel expressed his desire to see an end to the state of Israel and goaded the Iranians for their inability to prevent Israeli security forces operating within Iran. It is believed that during the conversation, he offered to pass information on to Iranian security forces and, if required, to “kill a Zionist.” On his return to Israel, he kept in touch via telephone and email, but was soon detected by Shin Bet.
Neturei Karta, the radical sect to which Bergel belongs, are an ultra-orthodox group who oppose the current state of Israel on religious grounds. According to the group’s philosophy, a Jewish homeland can only be established by the messiah, and man-made to create such a state are a violation of God’s will. The group exist worldwide and are believed to have 5,000 members in Jerusalem, where they continue a non-violent campaign for the dismantling of the Jewish state.
Although this is the first time a member has been jailed, the anti-Zionist Jewish sect have caused controversy both in Israel and abroad in recent years. Most famously, a delegation traveled to Iran in 2006 where they met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defending the Iranian leader’s stance on the Holocaust and praising his commitment to peace.
The group vociferously campaigns against Zionism in the U.S., where they are believed to have ties to the Nation of Islam, as well as across Europe. Recently, in association with pro-Palestine activists in Norway, the group raised funds to purchase an ambulance which was provided to a hospital in Gaza, with an inscription that read, “a gift from people of Norway and global anti-Zionist Jews.”
Neturei Karta have not issued a statement on the case yet. With the investigation now seemingly over, it seems that the recently jailed member of this anti-Zionist Jewish sect may have been acting on his own rather than on instructions from within the group but this is yet to be confirmed.
By Bernard O’Leary