Monsey rabbi sues Town of Ramapo over Israeli flag, claims “shock and distress” to Haredi anti-Zionists

Satmar rabbi Leibish Iliovits claimed the flag violates state laws regarding public displays of foreign flags and violates his right to freedom of religion

A man with an Israeli flag attempts to snatch an Iranian flag from anti-Zionist protesters. Credit: a katz/Shutterstock

Mar 21, 2024 4:10 PM


A Haredi rabbi from Monsey has sued the Town of Ramapo and its supervisor Michael Specht for displaying an Israeli flag outside the town hall.

Leibish Iliovits, described in the lawsuit as a Satmar Hasidic rabbi, said that the town’s display of the flag violates state laws about displaying flags of foreign countries at public buildings. He also said the display violates his first-amendment rights to expression and religion.

Iliovits said that in displaying the Israeli flag, the town “knew but did not care that it would greatly shock and distress” the area’s Haredi anti-Zionist community. He also said that some Haredim now feel uncomfortable using the town’s services because to do so would require them to “pay homage to a symbol that offends core [tenets] of their faith and community.”

The lawsuit is the latest attempt by some anti-Zionist Haredim in Ramapo to get the flag removed. According to the complaint, activists sent three formal requests to the town between Feb. 15 and March 5. Two Haredi activists who stole the flag, Alter Goldberger and Yehonatan Ovadia, were arrested and charged with hate crimes, despite being observant Jews themselves. 

In response to the thefts and criticism, Specht doubled down on displaying the flag. “We placed the flag there to show solidarity with the Israeli people after the heinous atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7,” he told Lohud.

Many members of Ramapo’s broader Haredi community are staunchly supportive of Israel, though they may not describe themselves as Zionists. The town also includes many Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews who expressly identify as Zionists. A much smaller group of Haredim identify as anti-Zionist, such as members of the Satmar or Neturei Karta subgroups.

Historically, Haredim have opposed Zionism due to its secular orientation and the belief that Jews should not have a sovereign state before the arrival of the Messiah. Still, many Haredim separate ideological stances about political Zionism from their emotional connection and feelings of kinship toward Israel. 

A source told Shtetl that Iliovits is also connected to Neturei Karta, a fringe Haredi sect whose members are often seen at pro-Palestinian rallies, waving Palestinian flags. Iliovits declined Shtetl’s request for an interview.

Neturei Karta has its roots in the anti-Zionist ideology of the Satmar sect, though most Satmar members believe Neturei Karta holds a distorted view of the ideology articulated by Satmar’s founder, the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. In recent months, the Satmar rebbe of Williamsburg, Zalmen Leib Teitelbaum, publicly condemned Neturei Karta for “standing with antisemities and murderers.”

In December, the popular Chabad rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson called members of Neturei Karta “very sick people” and claimed they are agents of Iran. In 2007, Neturei Karta stirred controversy across the Jewish world by joining then-president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinegad, in Tehran for a Holocaust conference, which also included Holocaust deniers, such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. 

While Neturei Karta members are generally considered part of the broader Haredi world, they have received threats from and been shunned by other Haredim. 

Neturei Karta members claim that Zionism is fundamentally antithetical to Judaism and that the state of Israel is “illegitimate,” according to numerous interviews given by their members.