September 19, 2019

The Enduring Controversy of Hannah Arendt

““A time will come, that you will not live to see, when Jews will erect a monument to you in Israel… and they will proudly claim you as their own,” the philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote to his close friend Hannah Arendt in 1963. That monument remains unbuilt in Israel 2019. Nearly 60 years have gone by since the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and Arendt’s name continues to generate fierce criticism among many Israeli intellectuals. Although she is considered by many one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, and even though she was a Holocaust survivor and a Zionist (at least for a certain period) – she was boycotted in Israel for many years and most of her writings have only recently been translated into Hebrew.

The strong feelings that Arendt, who died in 1975, arouses in scholars, especially Israelis, spring primarily from her 1963 book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Based on a series of articles Arendt wrote for The New Yorker, the book is critical of the way Israel conducted the Eichmann trial and the way the defendant was portrayed. Instead of the murderous, anti-Semitic monster the prosecution sought to paint, Arendt saw something very different: a new type of mass murderer, but without malicious, necessarily lethal, motives, who neither considered the significance of his deeds or accept responsibility for them. She attributed to Eichmann what she termed “thoughtlessness,” an inability to think from the other’s point of view.

Her book immediately sparked bitter controversy that persisted throughout the 1960s. Arendt was denounced, including by some of her closest friends, as anti-Zionist and said to an example of “Jewish self-hatred.” She was accused of being favorably disposed toward Eichmann and of absolving him of guilt and responsibility for his crimes. Her good friend, the kabbala scholar Gershom Scholem, wrote to her that she lacked “love for the Jewish people.” Relations between them were severed in the wake of her response to his letter.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Congratulations, Mr. President. It took an extraordinary effort, but you finally managed to spark a serious global crisis. I know you don’t like to share credit, but don’t worry. The current mess in the Middle East centered around Iran is all..."

"We’re approaching the anniversary of one of the nastiest political battles it has been my misfortune to witness—the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite credible accusations of sexual harassment and assault and his..."

"There are few one-offs in life on Earth—rarely can a single species boast a trait or ability that no other possesses. But human language is one such oddity. Our ability to use subtle combinations of sounds produced by our vocal cords to create..."

"He walked through the coffee shop door and scanned the crowd. A familiar smile bloomed as he recognized me, despite how my appearance had changed over the years. I’m bald and bearded now, and heavier. I wear an extra decade on my face, and I’m..."

"The poverty rate in the United States fell to 11.8 percent in 2018, according to data released last week by the Census Bureau — the lowest it’s been since 2001. But this estimate significantly understates the extent of economic deprivation in..."

"Streaming is the future of TV. But for now a big part of the streaming business revolves around old TV shows. Latest case in point: Netflix is paying a lot of money for the rights to show Seinfeld to its 150 million subscribers around the world..."

"On the eve of the second Israeli election of 2019, there is no shortage of apocalyptic rhetoric about the potential consequences of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election. From the New York Times' editorial column to The Forward’s..."

"Is there a backlash toward the technology industry in the culture? I tend to think so, having written about its various twists and turns most weekdays for the past couple years now. But sometimes an obsession with a beat can lead to myopia, and..."