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Arendt: an Israel dependent on ‘great powers’ will always be ‘precarious’

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Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt

In 1944-45, Hannah Arendt, who had fled the Nazis to come to the U.S., wrote columns for the German-Jewish New York publication, Aufbau. Some of them are collected in the 2007 collection, The Jewish Writings.

The column excerpted below, “New Proposals for a Jewish-Arab Understanding” of August 1944, treats a recurrent theme in Arendt’s analysis of “Zionist failure”: Jewish immigrants to Palestine needed to forge a political future with the Arabs who lived there, rather than relying on power politics to guarantee the Jewish future. Dependence on foreign powers– from Turkey to Britain to the U.S.– would leave any Jewish commonwealth “precarious,” she wrote.

Opportunistic politics, which tries somehow to muddle through from day to day, usually leaves behind it a chaos of contradictory interests and apparently hopeless conflicts. Zionist politics of the last twenty-five years vis-a-vis the Arabs could go down in history as a model of opportunism. One of the Arab leaders from before the First World War rightly recognized the true core of Zionist failure when he called out to his Jewish partners in negotiation… ‘Be very careful, Zionist gentlemen, governments come and go, but a people remains.’

In the meantime, the Turkish government vanished and was replaced by the British. This reinforced the Zionist leadership in its stance of negotiation with governments instead of with peoples….

Palestine is surrounded by Arab countries, and even a Jewish state in Palestine with an overwhelming Jewish majority, yes, even a purely Jewish Palestine, would be a very precarious structure without a prior agreement with all the Arab peoples on all its borders….

[Arendt then addresses new efforts to bring Jewish and Palestinian people together at a grassroots level]

The political core of this new intra-Zionist opposition is both the realization of the fatal, utopian hyperbole of the demand for a Jewish commonwealth and a rejection of the idea of making all Jewish politics in Palestine dependent on the protection of great powers…. Over the long term, economic interests, whether those of workers or capitalists, are no substitute for politics, although one can use them politically. That is why it is right that an indigenous understanding between Jews and Arabs must first begin at the base, for it would be fatal to forget how often such efforts have been thwarted and rendered useless by political decisions made at the top.

A couple additional comments. Arendt, a leftwinger, absolutely reflects the view of State Department officials in 1948 that an Israel established by force could only be preserved by force. Also, notice the populism in these paragraphs. Arendt trusted the ability of empowered people to determine their futures. She would have hated the Israel lobby. She would have hated the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which granted so much political power to corporations.

I believe she would have looked at the current scene in Israel and Palestine– in which a rightwing extreme grows in Israeli society, and Palestine has some extremists of its own–and seen that opposition as a fulfillment of her own worst predictions, and then recommended a political solution. I.e., if the two societies were combined politically, with voting rights at last granted to the occupied population, a reasonable consensus might emerge in the middle. This seems to me the most powerful practical argument for democracy in Israel/Palestine.

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How true, Phil! Thanks for that. You know, I wold be lying to you if I said I care about the future of Israel. I have the future of Palestine to worry about and that’s already a lot to handle. But having said that, what Hannah Arendt wrote so many years back is prophetic yet commonsensical. If I were Israeli Jew, I would totally separate Jew from Zionist and focus on preserving the Jew part… Read more »

I haven’t had the chance to read Arendt, but she is widely cited by Judith Butler, both in previous works, and in Butler’s latest lecture series at Bryn Mawr. From those readings and from other citations, such as this one Phil, it seems to me that Arendt made a valuable contribution to the canon of moral philosophy based on Jewish tradition. I think I could be much more joyful if it weren’t for the contribution… Read more »

I read Arendt. Human dignity was her first and last concern.

‘Arendt, a leftwinger ‘

Are human rights leftwing?

RE: “a recurrent theme in Arendt’s analysis of ‘Zionist failure’: Jewish immigrants to Palestine needed to forge a political future with the Arabs who lived there” ~ Weiss A RELATED FACEBOOK GROUP Name – Hannah Arendt: Integrity Personified Category – Common Interest, Beliefs & Causes Description – A group for individuals who greatly respect the legendary Hannah Arendt, and who admire the immense integrity her life epitomized. Oh, come, all ye “conscious pariahs”, Joyful and… Read more »

>> Palestine is surrounded by Arab countries, and even a Jewish state in Palestine with an overwhelming Jewish majority, yes, even a purely Jewish Palestine, would be a very precarious structure without a prior agreement with all the Arab peoples on all its borders…. But Zionists did come to an agreement with the Arab peoples. It went something like this: “Give us what we want, or we will take it from you.” Today, this type… Read more »