Arendt: Born in conflict, Israel will degenerate into Sparta, and American Jews will need to back away

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Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

For the new year, here are some prophetic excerpts from two essays of Hannah Arendt’s, collected in The Jewish Writings (2007). Please note her predictions of the Nakba, of unending conflict, of Zionist dependence on the American Jewish community, of ultimate conflict with that American Jewish community, and the contribution of political Zionism to world anti-semitism. Just what Howard Gutman said recently. For which he was denounced by– Zionists.

Zionism Reconsidered, 1944:

Nationalism is bad enough when it trusts in nothing but the rude force of the nation. A nationalism that necessarily and admittedly depends upon the force of a foreign nation is certainly worse. This is the threatened state of Jewish nationalism and of the proposed Jewish state, surrounded inevitably by Arab states and Arab people. Even a Jewish majority in Palestine–nay even a transfer of all Palestine’s Arabs, which is openly demanded by the revisionists–would not substantially change a situation in which Jews must either ask protection from an outside power against their neighbors or come to a working agreement with their neighbors…

[T]he Zionists, if they continue to ignore the Mediterranean people and watch out only for the big faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and hostile interests. Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred; the antisemitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the presence of foreign big powers in that region but had actually plotted it and hence are guilty of the consequences…

[T]he sole new piece of historical philosophy which the Zionists contributed out of their own new experiences [was] “A nation is a group of people…  held together by a common enemy” (Herzl)–an absurd doctrine…

To such [political] independence, it was believed, the Jewish nation could arrive under the protecting wings of any great power strong enough to shelter its growth…. the Zionists ended by making the Jewish national emancipation entirely dependent upon the material intersts of another nation.

The actual result was a return of the new movement to the traditional methods of shtadlonus [court Jews], which the Zionists once had so bitterly despised and violently denounced. Now Zionists too knew no better place politically than the lobbies of the powerful, and no sounder basis for agreements than their good services as agents of foreign interests…

[O]nly folly could dictate a policy which trusts a distant imperial power for protection, while alienating the goodwill of neighbors. What then, one is prompted to ask, will be the future policy of Zionism with respect to big powers, and what program will Zionists have to offer for a solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict?…

If a Jewish commonwealth is obtained in the near future–with or without partition–it will be due to the political influence of American Jews…. But if the Jewish commonwealth is proclaimed against the will of the Arabs and without the support of the Mediterranean peoples, not only financial help but political support will be necessary for a long time to come. And that may turn out to be very troublesome indeed for Jews in this country [the U.S.], who after all have no power to direct the political destinies of the Near East. It may eventually be far more of a responsibility than today they imagine or tomorrow can make good.

To Save the Jewish Homeland, 1948 [on the occasion of war in Palestine]

And even if the Jews were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed. The land that would come into being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and non-Zionist. The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded into ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and acitvities. The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy…. And all this would be the fate of a nation that — no matter how many immigrants it could still absorb and how far it extended its boundaries (the whole of Palestine and Transjordan is the insane Revisionist demand)–would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.

Under such circumstances… the Palestinian Jews would degenerate into one of those small warrior tribes about whose possibilities and importance history has amply informed us since the days of Sparta. Their 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. Palestine Jewry would eventually separate itself from the larger body of world Jewry and in its isolation develop into an entirely new people. Thus it becomes plain that at this moment and under present circumstances a Jewish state can only be erected at the price of the Jewish homeland…

One grim addendum. In the heyday of the special relationship between the US and Israel, American Jewry felt itself to be one with the Israeli people. We Are One! declared Melvin Urofsky’s book of 1978. That unity is today being dissolved. The haredi-secular conflict in Israel that is getting so much attention here is one means of that dissolution. And the aim, unconsciously, may be a desire by American Jews to distance themselves from Israeli Jews so that when the Arab Spring at last brings a democratic movement to Israel and Palestine, and bloody conflict ensues, and the Israeli gov’t is cast as the bad guys, American Jews are emotionally prepared to regard the bloodshed as inevitable and not their problem.

166 Responses

  1. yonah fredman
    January 1, 2015, 11:58 pm

    Worth mentioning the book that came out this year by Bettina Stangneth, “Eichmann before Jerusalem, the Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer” that discredits Arendt’s attributing banality to the Eichmann personality. In fact Eichmann was a dedicated Jew murderer and Arendt was hoodwinked by the game that he played at his trial of being a mere cog.

    • tree
      January 2, 2015, 4:39 am

      I suspect you have never read “Eichmann in Jerusalem” since you seem to be under the false impression that Arendt considered Eichmann a “mere cog”. That was not her viewpoint, nor did she base her observations merely on the tack that he took at the trial. She had access to a significant portion of the Sassen transcripts from the 1950’s that , from the reviews I have read of the book you recommend, Stangneth used as the basis of her book.

      Here’s perhaps a better explanation of Arendt’s meaning of “banality of evil” than I can cobble together late at night.

      link to

      and here’s Judith Butler discussing Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem”:

      link to

      BTW, did Stangneth’s book discuss Eichmann’s trip to Palestine to visit with Zionists and tour a kibbutz in 1937? Or his agreement with Rudolph Kastner? His recollections were recorded in the Stassen interviews upon which she based her conclusions, according to reviews of her book I’ve read.

      In 1955, hiding in Argentina, Eichmann discussed Palestine and Kasztner on tape. After his capture in 1960, Life magazine published excerpts. On the kibbutz in 1937, he

      “did see enough to be very impressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.” (“Eichmann Tells His Own Damning Story,” Life [28 November 1960], p. 22).

      He described Kasztner as

      “a fanatical Zionist. He agreed to help keep the Jews from resisting deportation — and even keep order in the collection camps — if I would close my eyes and let a few hundred or a few thousand young Jews emigrate illegally to Palestine. It was a good bargain. For keeping order in the camps, the price of 15,000 or 20,000 Jews — in the end there may have been more — was not too high for me. And because Kastner rendered us a great service by helping keep the deportation camps peaceful, I would let his groups escape” (“I Transported Them to the Butcher,” Life [5 Dec. 1960], p. 146).

      How does Stangneth reconcile the two phases of his work- first investigating alternate places to force European Jews to migrate to, (and admiring the ZIonists in Palesine), and then later organizing their collection and death?

      • Annie Robbins
        January 2, 2015, 8:02 am

        How does Stangneth reconcile the two phases of his work

        tree, did you mean Stangneth or kastner?

      • tree
        January 2, 2015, 3:44 pm

        HI Annie! Happy New Year.

        I meant “How does Stangneth reconcile Eichmann’s two phases of his work- his earlier work promoting, enforcing and arranging for Jewish immigration from Germany before the War, when he worked in conjunction with German Zionists and Zionists in Palestine and on plans to exile Jews to Madagascar, and his later work, during the War, when his job was arranging and facilitating gathering Jews in for slaughter.

        It seems overly simplistic to say that he was only ever interested in murdering Jews. My take would be that he was an avid Nazi, a romantic nationalist ( which is why he praised Zionism as another romantic nationalism) . Therefore whatever the 3rd Reich decided was necessary he would avidly do, without questioning the morality of it all. He was not a fanatical monster; he was a banal human being who never questioned the morality of what he was doing nor was he able to grasp the perspective of any one outside of his Nazi millieu. If Hitler had suddenly decided that the Dutch were the mortal enemy that must be destroyed, Eichmann would have quickly regrouped to accomplish his new task of gathering in and killing all Dutch men and women. All for the Fatherland, whatever it took, without question or thinking.

    • CigarGod
      January 2, 2015, 10:19 am

      You miss arendt’s point just like stangneth and others before her do. I understand. That he was an unassuming technocrat, that shares many of the same common human components within us all…gets in the way of the image we like to create of all human demons. We want to create as much distance as possible between them and us. Unfortunately, there is very little difference…outside of a noteworthy handful of components…and luck (good or bad)…being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, meeting the right people, etc…yes, people who played a part…a part they would like to bury and forget. They are banal…but they cannot let their enemy be banal.

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