Sol Stern: Hannah Arendt and the Origins of Israelophobia
Sol Stern is a contributing editor of City Journal, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred.
In last year’s extensive commentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, one name—Hannah Arendt—was mentioned nearly as often as that of the trial’s notorious defendant. It’s hard to think of another major twentieth-century event so closely linked with one author’s interpretation of it. Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany at 27, was already an internationally renowned scholar and public intellectual when she arrived in Jerusalem in April 1961 to cover the trial for The New Yorker. Arendt’s five articles, which were then expanded into the 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, proved hugely controversial. Many Jewish readers—and non-Jews, too—were shocked by three principal themes in Arendt’s report: her portrayal of Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as the cynical puppet master manipulating the trial to serve the state’s Zionist ideology; her assertion that Eichmann was a faceless, unthinking bureaucrat, a cog in the machinery of the Final Solution rather than one of its masterminds; and her accusation that leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) in Nazi-occupied Europe had engaged in “sordid and pathetic” behavior, making it easier for the Nazis to manage the logistics of the extermination process.
Since the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, serious scholars have debunked the most inflammatory of Arendt’s charges. Nevertheless, for today’s defamers of Israel, Arendt is a patron saint, a courageous Jewish intellectual who saw Israel’s moral catastrophe coming. These leftist intellectuals don’t merely believe, as Arendt did, that she was the victim of “excommunication” for the sin of criticizing Israel. Their homage to Arendt runs deeper. In fact, their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel and exile it from the family of nations—another kind of excommunication, if you will—derives several of its themes from Arendt’s writings on Zionism and the Holocaust. Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies...
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