December 20, 2005
IS ANTI-ZIONISM ANTI-SEMITISM? THE EXAMPLES OF HANNAH ARENDT AND ALBERT EINSTEIN
Whenever one criticizes the apartheid policies of the Israeli government, or criticizes Zionism as a dangerous form of racial nationalism, one is taxed by the neo-cons, the unconditional Likudniks, and certain neo-liberal Jewish intellectuals with the knee-jerk response, "That's anti-Semitism!" But in such debates it is important to recall some forgotten history -- and Scott Tucker (below right), in his onliine 'zine Open Letter, has usefully done just that, reviving the critiques of Zionism by such prominent Jewish intellectuals as Hannah Arendt (left) and Albert Einstein (right). To quote from Scott's mini-essay (to which I've added some helpful links):
In order to gain some historical perspective on today's ruling versionof Zionism, it helps to remember two facts of immense importance in any discussion of Israel. First, free and far-ranging discussions of Zionism are presently more common in the better Israeli newspapers such as Ha'aretz than in newspapers such as The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times; and second, we would have to isolate Jewish intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes within the ranks of "anti-Semites" if we insist on making dogmatic judgments about their criticisms of political and state Zionism. In some respects, Noam Chomsky and other Jewish intellectuals are reviving this older critique of state Zionism-- and they have also been slandered in familiar terms.
This is essentialy a debate about nationalism, militarism and human rights. Consequently, this debate is international -- and properly historical. In that spirit, certain passages in Elizabeth Young-Bruehl's biography of Hannah Arendt are worth special attention (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Yale University Press, 1982). Young-Bruehl sought to distinguish the views of Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes-- but also to emphasize how much they had in common.
"Whenever Arendt wrote about Palestine, she repeated her prophecy that political organization in the postwar world might take one of two forms, empires or federations, and that the Jewish people would only have a chance for survival if federations were formed. She had desperately urged her people to avoid establishing a Jewish state which would only be a 'sphere of interest' in foreign powers' empires..."
For his part, Judah Magnes (right) and a small group of colleagues "offered a general proposal for a binational state in Palestine in which neither Jews nor Arabs would be a minority and both would have equal rights... Magnes accepted the State of Israel after its May eighteenth birth, but he did not abandon his dream of Jewish-Arab cooperation."
In 1948, Arendt wrote, "Local self-government and mixed Jewish-Arab municipal and rural Councils, on a small scale and as numerous as possible, are the only realistic political measures that can eventually lead to the political emancipation of Palestine." To prevent the ascendancy of Jewish and Arab terrorists to power, Arendt (right, in the 1940s) also hoped to forestall the partition of Palestine. Thus she supported President Truman's proposal -- and Count Bernadotte's second proposal (before his assassination) -- for an interim United Nations trusteeship of Palestine. Arendt hoped such a UN trusteeship would give all people in Palestine the time to learn to live as neighbors. (left, photo of Count Folke Bernadotte)
Magnes and Arendt corresponded with respect on both sides, and worked together politically as far as possible. As Young-Bruehl wrote: "The two choices Arendt saw were stark: Bernadotte's second proposal for a UN trusteeship or a Jewish -Arab confederation along Magnes' lines. Hannah Arendt, invoking feasability, had argued for the first.
"Judah Magnes died on the morning of 27 October  without having answered his own question about the way out. For his supporters, it was clear that their own work could not go on without him, though they tried for a time to keep his ideas alive through the Judah Magnes Foundation [a task now assumed by the Judah Magnes Museum -- D.I.]. Hannah wrote to Magnes' old friend Hans Kohn, who was teaching at Smith College, on 12 November: 'Magnes's death is a real tragedy at this moment. Nobody has his moral authority. I don't see anybody, moreover, who lives really in the Jewish world and who is prominent in a Jewish institution who would have the courage to speak up against what is going on now.' All that she herself could do was to join a group of prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, who submitted a letter of protest to The New York Times when the Jewish terrorist, Menachem Begin (right), came to America in search of support for the Revisionists of his Herut party. The protest flatly compared the Revisionists "to the Nazi and Fascist parties" and repudiated the blend in their ideology of 'ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.' "...... [The full text of this letter, with a list of its signatories, is in Tucker's piece. -- D.I.]
Tucker's mini-essay also has this prescient quote from Einstein: ""I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain -- especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.".....There's more, and you can read the rest of Scott Tucker's important disinterring of this frequently overlooked intellectual history by clicking here.
BEST JOKE OF THE WEEK -- And it comes from Comedy Central star Jon Stewart (right): "Senator Bill Frist (left), he's a doctor and he says that AIDS could be transmitted from sweat and tears. Not unless your penis weeps while you're fucking somebody." Quoted in Paul Krassner's article in The Nation this week, "Fear and Laughing in Las Vegas," on the first annual Comedy Festival.
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