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At an Exhibition of Photographs of Israel, Some Wonderful Images, and Much Foolishness

March 25 2016

This Place, currently at the Brooklyn Museum, displays 574 pictures of Israeli scenes taken by a dozen accomplished photographers. In his review, William Meyers notes that there are “some wonderful images,” but the exhibit’s attempt to convey a message is at best meaningless and at times something worse:

[One of the photographers, Josef] Koudelka, calls the wall Israel built to protect itself from the suicide bombings of the second intifada “a crime against the landscape,” and his extensive documentation makes clear how ugly it is. In his text, Koudelka, one of the world’s great photographers, makes an analogy between Israel’s wall and the Berlin Wall—but the analogy is off. The latter was built to keep people prisoner, to prevent their escape; the former for security, any country’s first responsibility.

For “Desert Bloom,” a series of aerial views of sites associated with the Bedouin of the Negev, Fazal Sheikh began by consulting B’Tselem, . . . Breaking the Silence, and [other] far-left groups that cloak their activities in the rhetoric of human rights but seek to discredit Israel. Aerial photography requires interpretation to be understood, and these pictures, which purport to show Israel’s indifference to its Bedouin citizens and a disregard for environmental concerns, actually document the need for the plans that the government has been trying for several years to implement to improve the educational, health and employment opportunities in the region.

[The exhibit’s organizer and prime fundraiser, Frédéric] Brenner, in [an] interview, . . . said, “I came to feel that only through the language of artists could we hope to create an encounter that truly reflected the complexity of the place, with all its rifts and paradoxes.” This is the hyperbole of fundraising, Brenner’s strong suit. The parties to the conflict . . . will not be swayed by the language of artists. Only donors will.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Arts & Culture, Bedouin, Breaking the Silence, Israel & Zionism, Museums, Photography

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals