29 April 2019

Hannah Arendt – a Jewish Pariah and Daughter of the Diaspora

Arendt was the German-Jewish Refugee whose Universalism Overcame her Zionism

Hannah Arendt was an enigma. She rejected any materialist or class analysis in favour of a philosophical and metaphysical discourse. Originally a Zionist, Arendt escaped the shackles and straitjacket of authoritarian nationalism. Zionism demands obedience to the Jewish volk, above all from its intellectuals, which is one reason why it has produced so few. Nationalism and worship of the state are not conducive to freedom of thought or innovative ideas.
Arendt was the child of left-wing parents. In the 1930’s she became a Zionist as she saw in the rise of Nazism the defeat of universalism and assimilation. Arendt fled from Berlin in 1933 to Paris after having spent 8 days in the custody of the Gestapo. However, as with many other Jewish refugees, the Nazis caught up with her and in 1941 she escaped again from Gurs internment camp and made her way, with her husband Heinrich Blucher, to the United States. For the Zionists, this fact aloneonly contributed to the dismissal of her work as having no real worth.’
Arendt’s most famous work, the The Origins of Totalitarianism was published in 1951 in McCarthy’s America. It is as its title suggests an analysis of what she called ‘totalitarianism’, the kind of a state that Orwell described in 1984.  She summed it up in the Introduction:
‘Anti-Semitism (not merely hatred of the Jews), imperialism (not merely conquest), totalitarianism (not merely dictatorship) one after another, one more brutally than the other have demonstrated that human dignity needs a new guarantee.’
As a refugee she noted that when a person is driven away from one country, he is expelled from all countries “which means he is actually expelled from humanity”. Refugees are literally outlaws, beyond the protection of the law.
It is ironic that Israel alone of Western states refuses to accept any refugees on the grounds that they would undermine Israel’s (Jewish) national identity. Hostility to refugees in Israel is higher than in any other western state. Despite claiming it is a ‘Jewish’ state the injunction in Leviticus 19:33-34 is ignored:
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”

refugees stranded at the Greek border 2016

Arendt is without doubt the greatest Jewish political philosopher of the 20th century. It is little surprise that despite having being converted to Zionism under the influence of Kurt Blumenfeld of the German Zionist Federation and having worked for Youth Aliya in Paris in 1935 she became a bête noir for the Zionist movement after having published in 1963 Eichmann in Jerusalem – The Banality of Evil, about the 1961 Eichmann trial in Israel.
Gabriel Piterberg in The Returns of Zionism describes how in 2001 Yad Vashem and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University organised a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the Eichmann Trial. The keynote address was by Anita Shapira, the ‘princess of Zionism’ To her all Jewish history began and continued in Israel. The intervening 2,000 years of diaspora Jewry were a void. Shapira evinces what Piterberg calls ‘the hegemonic depth of Zionist ideology.’
Elizabeth Varnhagen
We can see this ideological hegemony and totalitarian thought in the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ onslaught today on Corbyn’s Labour Party whereby any fundamental critique of Israeli ‘democracy’ is deemed anti-Semitic under the IHRA. The IHRA has been adopted by all major British political parties, local authorities and the Police and Judicial College, despite excoriating criticism by legal scholars such as  Geoffrey Robertson QC, Hugh Tomlinson QC and the Jewish former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley. No amount of reasoned argument or logic can withstand the unanimity of bourgeois support for Zionism.
In contrast the most outrageous anti-Palestinian racism is excused by police state journalists like the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland as a product of ‘Jewish identity’ which is therefore immune to criticism. ‘Jewish identity’ is used as a shield to protect Israel yet anyone who associates Jews with Israel’s crimes is under the IHRA ‘anti-Semitic’. A case of having your Zionist cake and eating it!
Arendt committed what for her Zionist detractors was a cardinal sin. She sought to draw universal lessons from the Holocaust that were neither nationalist nor racist. ‘Shapira charges Arendt with trying to ‘understand’ Nazism and the Judaeocide from a universalist position.’  [Piterberg, 149] That was why, until 1999, Eichmann in Jerusalem was not published in Israel. As Boaz Evron put it
‘this book came to me as a fresh wind of sobriety and sensibility amongst the hysterical storm blown all around by the propaganda agencies of the Ben Gurion regime.’
Arendt was
‘in Shapira’s absurd judgment, incapable of sensing the Jewish experience because she was from ‘there’ as if ‘there’ was not where the Holocaust had occurred.’
Not only did Shapira condemn Arendt’s universalism but her refusal to accept Zionist colonisation and ownership of the Holocaust. A Holocaust which the Jewish Agency had ignored whilst it was happening but which they utilised politically and ideologically.
Arendt’s essay ‘The Jew as a Pariah’ was savaged in a review in the magazine of the American Right, Commentary. Rather than praising Jewish nationalism, Arendt praises Jewish dissidents as she focuses on 4 particular pariahs – Heinrich Heine, Bernard Lazarre, Charlie Chaplin and Franz Kafka – each brilliant in their own way. But as Ron Feldman notes sniffily regarding Chaplin ‘strangely enough, one did not have to be Jewish to be a Jewish pariah.’
Rahel Varnhagen's Literary Salon in Berlin
But of course the quintessential pariah was Arendt herself. As Lyndsey Stonebridge notes in her essay The Shape of Totalitarianism and the Meaning of Exile: Three Lessons from Hannah Arendt Arendt was a self-proclaimed pariah, a term she borrowed from Bernard Lazare. She considered her closest soulmate Rahel Varnhagen, a pariah to parvenu of the late 17th, early 18th century who ran a famous literary salon in Berlin. An important figure in Germany’s Romantic movement she converted to Christianity in 1814 in order to escape the social restrictions that were placed on Jews. She was the outsider who sought acceptance which is one reason why Amos Elon [The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933] falsely accused her of hating her Jewish background.
Conversion was Varnhagen’s only escape. Arendt said of her that
Rahel had remained a Jew and a pariah. Only because she clung to both conditions did she find a place in the history of European humanity.
For Zionism, what is and was more important was her rejection of racial exclusivism in favour of Jewish assimilation.
In 1938, Arendt completed her biography Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess although it wasn’t published until 1957. As Piterberg notes, it took 20 years to write. For Arendt ‘a decent human existence is possible only on the fringes of society, where one then runs the risks of starving or being stoned to death.’  Arendt cherished Varnhagen as her "closest friend, though she had been dead for some hundred years".
Arendt followed a similar trajectory to Einstein. From Zionist to non-Zionist. She signed a famous letter on 2nd December 1948 on the occasion of Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States.
Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.
In October 1944 Arendt wrote an essay Zionism Reconsidered. Judith Butler observed
‘Paradoxically, and perhaps shrewdly, the terms in which Arendt criticised Fascism came to inform her criticisms of Zionism, though she did not and would not conflate the two.’
Although Zionism is not a fascist ideology (although it has a remarkable number of fascist adherents) it shares a number of common features with fascism such as the premium placed on loyalty to the state and the prioritisation of the needs of the state over those of the individual.
During the Holocaust this was expressed as the need to build the Jewish state taking priority over the saving of the Jews in Europe.  Shabtai Teveth, his official biographer, quotes Ben Gurion as saying that where there was
a conflict of interest between saving individual Jews and the good of the Zionist enterprise, we shall say that the enterprise comes first.
In ‘Zionism Reconsidered’ Arendt noted that the American Zionist conference in 1944 had demanded a Jewish Commonwealth in the whole of Palestine without once mentioning the Palestinians, describing this as a victory for the Revisionist programme. Her conclusion was that this ‘obviously leaves them the choice between voluntary emigration or second class citizenship.’  In fact there was a third choice, which in 1948 came to pass – transfer or ethnic cleansing, which she notes was discussed in a wide variety of Zionist circles.
The critical problem for Arendt was both political and humanitarian:
the solution of the Jewish question merely produced a new category of refugees, the Arabs, thereby increasing the number of stateless and rightless by another 700,000 to 800,000 people.
As Butler noted
she calls ‘absurd’ the idea of setting up a Jewish state in a ‘sphere of interest’ of the superpowers. Such a state would suffer under the ‘delusion of nationhood’: ‘Only folly could dictate a policy which trusts a distant imperial power for protection, while alienating the goodwill of neighbours.’
Zionism rested on‘an open acceptance of anti-Semitism as a “fact.” The Zionist labour movement had created, with the chalutz and kibbutz ‘a new type of Jew’ but this didn’t prevent the Zionist Organisation ‘against the natural impulses of the whole Jewish people’ doing business with Hitler in order to ‘trade German goods against the wealth of German Jewry.’
Arendt noted that the ‘socialist’ Zionists ‘failed to level a single critique of Jewish bourgeoisie outside of Palestine, or to attack the role of Jewish finance.’
Arendt had great difficulty in coming to terms with the nation state.  To her the only solution to national conflicts was either complete assimilation or emigration. The possibility of national autonomy, cultural pluralism and multi-culturalism were absent.
Arendt castigated the ‘Zionist doctrine of eternal anti-Semitism’. Quoting Herzl she noted that because Zionism ‘concluded that without anti-Semitism the Jewish people would not have survived’ it was opposed to any attempt to liquidate anti-Semitism.
Astutely Arendt observed that for all their strictures against assimilation the Zionists ‘were the only ones who sincerely wanted assimilation, namely, ‘normalization’ of the (Jewish) people.’ Theirs was a collective assimilation in a Jewish state. The irony is that because of the circumstances of its creation, under the protection of the British Empire, Zionism had created a ‘Jewish’ state which is anything but normal, not least because it is an ethno-nationalist state.
Arendt’s criticism of Zionism’s attitude to the Jewish diaspora are astute. Zionism ‘cuts off Jewish history from European history and even from the rest of mankind’.
Arendt is particularly cutting in her description of leftist Zionists ‘who simply added official Zionism to their socialism’ whilst fighting the employment of Arab labour ‘under the pretense of class-struggle against Arab labour.’
Arendt accused Zionism of being inspired by German nationalism which viewed people biologically not politically. In the process
Zionists ended by making the Jewish national emancipation dependent upon the material interests of another nation.’The erection of a Jewish State within an imperial sphere of interest may look like a very nice solution to some Zionists...’
The ‘relationship between the proposed new State and the Diaspora’ is one which disturbed her. Arendt put her finger on another problem of Zionism. Its claim that Jews form a separate nation, even whilst the majority continue to live outside Israel in other countries. Inevitably this posed ‘the old question of double loyalty’ which is precisely what has happened.  [see Hannah Arendt would agree with Ilhan Omar] In her essay To Save the Jewish Homeland’ Arendt foresaw the time when Israel’s relations with world Jewry
would become problematical, since their defense interests might clash at any moment with those of other countries where large number of Jews lived.
Dual loyalty is inherent in Zionism.
Arendt argues that Herzl’s Zionism was ‘inspired from German sources – as opposed to the French variety.’ In other words a German nationalism which was exclusive and volkish, based on blood relations and kith and kin whereas French nationalism had been inclusive, based on all those residing within France.
Arendt noted the Zionist and Herzl view that the Jewish people were surrounded by a ‘world of enemies’ remarking that ‘if’ the whole world is ultimately against us, we are lost.’ She finishes her essay by warning of the parallels with Sabbatai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century.
Arendt’s attitude to the onset of anti-Semitism was that
If one is attacked as a Jew one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man.
Eichmann in Jerusalem – The Banality of Evil
What aroused the ire of the Zionist movement to white fury was Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She famously coined the slogan ‘the banality of evil’ which Zionist historians like David Cesarani have written books about without once understanding what it meant! She portrayed Eichmann as a desk bound bureaucrat and some took this to mean that he was simply doing a job that he had no strong feelings about either way. Cesarani went out of his way to prove what none of us doubted – that Eichmann was an anti-Semite.
However his anti-Semitism was political not personal. He was not some political Lord Voldemort, breathing fire. Rather he was someone who could only talk in clichés, lacking all original thought. In fact a most unremarkable man who nonetheless had perpetrated monstrous crimes.
Lyndsey Stonebridge observed it wasn’t Eichmann who she got wrong, but a young black woman named Elizabeth Eckford who was depicted amidst screaming white women in a famous 1957 photograph from Little Rock, Arkansas as she entered an all-White schools.
Arendt argued that Eckford should not be carrying such a political burden at her age and that education was a social and largely private matter. Ralph Ellison replied that all black children in the south carried a political burden from the day they were born whether they or their parents liked it or not. Arendt shut up.
The Judgment of the Eichmann trial dovetailed with Zionism’s political requirements when it found that ‘it has not been proved before us that the accused knew that the Gypsies were being transported to destruction’. Thus no genocide charge except that against the Jews was upheld. Hannah Arendt remarked that
This was difficult to understand, for, apart from the fact that the extermination of Gypsies was common knowledge, Eichmann had admitted during the police examination that he knew of it.’ It had been an order from Himmler.

The trial verdict did not see the extermination of millions of people as a crime against humanity. Rather it was a crime against the Jewish people. The Holocaust was not seen as ‘a Fascist attack on human diversity’ but a specific and exclusive attack on the Jewish people.

Arendt pointed to the hypocrisy of the Prosecutor Gideon Hausner:
‘Israeli citizens, religious and non-religious seem agreed upon the desirability of having a law which prohibits intermarriage… there certainly was something breathtaking in the naiveté with which the prosecution denounced the infamous Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which had prohibited intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans.’
Kasztner was the leader of Hungarian Zionism during the war. He was accused after the war by Hungarian survivors of the deportations to Auschwitz of having collaborated with Eichmann in return for a train carrying 1,684 of the Jewish and Zionist elite out of Hungary. The verdict of the trial judge Benjamin Halevi was that Kasztner had sold his soul to the devil. Although the decision was overturned on legal and political technicalities by the Supreme Court the damage had been done.
The Eichmann trial was staged primarily to undo the damage caused by the Kasztner Affair. In the words of Israeli historian Tom Segev [The 7th Million, p.328, see Noah Lucas, The Modern History of Israel, p. 414] it was meant to ‘expunge the historical guilt that had been attached to the Mapai leadership since the Kasztner trial.’  The Kasztner trial dominated the Israel of 1954-58 and caused the fall of the 1955 Sharrett government.
Witnesses who were likely to raise the issues that had surrounded the Kasztner trial were carefully excluded from giving evidence e.g. Kasztner’s friend Andre Biss.
What Arendt did was to write a book which threatened to undo this careful stage management. Her first sin was to attack the Jewish leadership in Nazi occupied Europe. She wrote:
‘Wherever Jews lived, there were recognized Jewish leaders, and this leadership, almost without exception, cooperated in one way or another, for one reason or another, with the Nazis. The whole truth was that if the Jewish people had really been unorganized and leaderless, there would have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and half and six million people.’
As Lucien Sternberg observed, ‘Arendt’s argument caused an outcry among Zionist holocaust historians but it could not be refuted.’ [Not as a Lamb - Jews Against Hitler, Gordon & Cremones, University Press, Glasgow p.109]
Arendt was accused of being incapable of understanding the complexity of the situation. Despite the participation of the Judenrat in rounding up Jews for deportation, Israel Gutman of Yad Vashem and Rozett opined that ‘‘The Judenrat reinforced the Jews’ power of endurance in their struggle for survival,’
Hausner was foremost among those who defended the Judenrat. He attacked Raul Hilberg, the preeminent Holocaust historian because Hannah Arendt ‘in her vicious and compassionless attitude to the Judenrat’ drew upon his work.’
The problem was that one could not explain how the Nazis had achieved their objectives so efficiently without taking the behaviour of the victims, including the Jewish Councils into account.
When Israeli Professor Jacob Talman criticised Hannah Arendt, for mentioning Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, Rudolph Vrba,  the Jewish escapee from Auschwitz, then residing in London asked:
‘Did the Judenrat (or the Judenverrat) in Hungary tell their Jews what was awaiting them? No, they remained silent and for this silence some of their leaders – for example Dr R Kasztner – bartered their own lives and the lives of 1684 other ‘prominent’ Jews directly from Eichmann.’
The Zionist movement exploded with fury when Arendt wrote ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem – The Banality of Evil.’ It threatened to undo all that had been achieved by the Eichmann Bill. Arendt’s crime was to highlight what the Eichmann Trial had been designed to avoid.  Their attacks bear a familiar ring:  Arendt wrote:
… the campaign, conducted with all the well-known means of image-making and opinion-manipulation, got much more attention than the controversy…. (it was) as though the pieces written against the book (and more frequently against its author) came “out of a mimeographing machine” (Mary McCarthy)… the clamor centered on the “image” of a book which was never written, and touched upon subjects that often had not only not been mentioned by me but had never occurred to me before.”
Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a German Zionist who had welcomed the rise of Hitler as vindicating Zionism, accused Arendt of having described Eichmann as a ‘sweet and misguided man.’ One French weekly went so far as to ask whether Arendt was a Nazi.
Amos Elon wrote, in an Introduction to her book, that
No book within living memory had elicited similar passions. A kind of excommunication seemed to have been imposed on the author by the Jewish establishment in America.
Arendt was stunned by the uproar. She spoke of the ‘smear campaign’ being conducted ‘on the lowest level’ based on the claim that she had said ‘the exact opposite of what I did in fact write.’ What Arendt had to say about the way her book was viciously caricatured has a familiar ring to those claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party. In a letter to her friend, Mary McCarthy, Arendt complained ‘what a risky business to tell the truth on a factual level without theoretical and scholarly embroidery.’ Shooting the messenger rather than responding to the message has always remained the quintessential Zionist modus operandi.  Apparently Arendt had claimed that ‘the Jews had murdered themselves’ and why had she told ‘such a monstrously implausible lie? Out of “self-hatred” of course.’
The Eichmann Trial was a political show trial. It focused solely on the Jewish dead and failed to place the Holocaust in any kind of historical context. Its purpose was not to understand but to rewrite history. People have concentrated on the Appeal Court’s decision to find Eichmann guilty and the imposition of the death sentence whilst ignoring its decision that ‘the Appellant had received no ‘superior orders’ at all. He was his own superior.’ Israel’s Supreme Court had exculpated Himmler and even Hitler.
A movie The Specialist was made. It reflected Arendt’s thesis on the banality of evil. Eichmann, whose enthusiasm for the annihilation of the Jews was never doubted, had nonetheless been a bureaucratic cog in the wheel.
‘The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely to think from the standpoint of somebody else.’
Raul Hilberg reached the same conclusion.
‘The bureaucracy had taken over. It is the bureaucratic destruction process that in its step-by-step manner finally led to the annihilation of five million victims.’
Eichmann was an ardent Zionist. Baron von Mildenstein, the first head of the SS’s Jewish Department, had required Eichmann to read Herzl’s Der Judenstaat which converted. Eichmann promptly and forever to Zionism... as late as 1939 he seems to have protested against desecrators of Herzl’s grave in Vienna.’
At the Eichmann trial, the most glaring omission from the picture painted was any witness to the co-operation between the Nazis and the Jewish authorities and the Zionists. This prevented the question being asked ‘Why did you cooperate in the destruction of your own people’. When Pinhas Freudiger, the Chief Rabbi of Hungary testified, this caused the only significant interruption as Hungarian survivors called him a collaborator and ‘accused him of abandoning his position as a leader of the Orthodox Community.’
Perhaps the best example of the ideological confrontation between Zionism, with its belief in the negation of the disapora and the voice of the Jewish diaspora, is the correspondence between Arendt and Gershom Scholem, the Professor of Mysticism. 
On June 23rd 1963 Scholem wrote to Arendt, having read Eichmann in Jerusalem.
In the Jewish tradition there is a concept Ahabath Israel: ‘Love of the Jewish people…”  In you, dear Hannah, as in so many intellectuals who came from the German Left, I find little trace of this….’
Arendt’s reply demonstrated that Scholem was at heart a Jewish chauvinist. 
‘I am not one of the “intellectuals who come from the German Left.’… It is a fact of which I am in no way particularly proud and which I am somewhat reluctant to emphasize – especially since the McCarthy era in this country.  I came late to an understanding of Marx’s importance… let me begin… with what you call “love of the Jewish people.”… (Incidentally, I would be very grateful if you could tell me since when this concept has played a role in Judaism)… You are quite right – I am not moved by any “love” of this sort, and for two reasons.  I have never in my life “loved” any people or collective… I indeed love “only” my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons.  Secondly, this “love of the Jews” would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect…. I do not “love” the Jews, nor do I “believe” in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument…. But I can admit to you something beyond that, namely, that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples.’
It was in truth a devastating reply.
See      Hannah Arendt would agree with Ilhan Omar, Philip Weiss

Why Hannah Arendt is the Philosopher for Now, Lyndsey Stonebridge

Hannah Arendt: Human, Citizen, Jew

Tony Greenstein

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