Arafat's rabbi sings Palestinian leader's praises
(Jews must be stateless until the coming of the Messiah.)

By Megan Goldin

JERUSALEM, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat will never be "irrelevant" to his rabbi.

"What (Israeli leaders) say -- that (Arafat) is irrelevant -- doesn't disturb him in the least. It just makes the people who declare that irrelevant," said Rabbi Moshe Hirsch, the Palestinian president's adviser on Jewish affairs.

As far as the 60-something ultra-Orthodox rabbi is concerned, the only irrelevant notion in the Middle East is Israel -- a country he believes should be wiped off the face of the earth.

Hirsch, who has born in New York's Lower East Side but has lived in Israel for most of its 53 years, believes that Jews must be stateless until the coming of the Messiah. As far as he is concerned the State of Israel is an abomination before God.

"(Israel) should not exist, it should disappear," said Hirsch, whose black robes, skullcap and unorthodox views on the Jewish state attest to his role in the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta community, which numbers tens of thousands of Jews.

"This country is forbidden...There are many ways of ending this calamity: By wars, by poison letters. There are many ways of God revenging on the nation, “said Hirsch, a resident of the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jewish west Jerusalem.

Hirsch rushed to Arafat's side on Monday to console the Palestinian leader, effectively confined to his West Bank headquarters for more than two weeks since the Israeli army sent tanks close to the compound after suicide bombings in Israel.

Hirsch -- who calls himself a Jewish Palestinian and writes Palestine as his country of residence -- says he was designated a cabinet minister when Arafat arrived in the West Bank city of Jericho in 1994 after signing interim peace accords with Israel.

Hirsch's name does not appear on an official list of Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and he does not attend government meetings, which usually take place on the Jewish Sabbath.

But when foreign dignitaries come to town, Hirsch is often standing in the receiving line with Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers and senior officials.

"When we have something to discuss on Jewish affairs, I meet the president in a mini-cabinet session," said Hirsch, who gave Arafat a Jewish candelabrum to mark the recent Hanukkah holiday.


Hirsch said he advised Arafat at their half-hour meeting on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's demand that the Palestinian leader arrest militants behind a suicide bombing campaign was a ruse to try to bring him down.

"Mr. Sharon's idea is for him (Arafat) to arrest all the groups involved in terrorism and that way he will cause a civil war among the Palestinians. That’s how they (Israel) will get rid of him. I told this to Mr. Arafat this Monday," Hirsch said.

Hirsch -- who speaks English, Hebrew and Yiddish but no Arabic -- keeps a photograph of Arafat in his coat pocket and cannot hide his regard for him.

"He (Arafat) is a clever person. He is not wild, he has no grudge against Jews” said which, who said the Palestinian leader ensures he is provided with fruit and soft drinks at their meetings in deference to Jewish dietary regulations.

"(Arafat) understands everything very well. As well as I do," said Hirsch, who believes the Palestinian leader will save the Jews from God's wrath by founding a "non-sectarian state" where Christians, Jews and Muslims will be treated equally. Like all members of Neturei Karta, Hirsch is unashamed about avoiding paying tax to a country he does not believe exists. He eschews Israeli citizenship and does not vote in elections, but his group also rejects government funding for their schools.

Hirsch hopes that once Arafat has established an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- lands captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war -- he will set his sights on conquering Israel.

"When you pass first base you try for second base," he said.