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Saving the Remnants of Jewish Life in the Arab World

Feb. 22 2017

In 2008, Jason Guberman began a project to map and collect photographs of synagogues and Jewish shrines and cemeteries throughout the Middle East, creating for posterity a digital museum of the physical remnants of these ancient, and almost entirely defunct, communities. Diarna, the organization he founded, has been able to take advantage of the recent upheavals in the region to expand its reach even as Islamic State and other groups have been destroying what little remains. Emily Feldman writes:

Many places were still off-limits when Diarna started its project, some three years before the Arab Spring uprisings toppled dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Many of those autocrats clung to anti-Semitic policies. Libya under Muammar Qaddafi was particularly difficult to access for researchers working for a Jewish nonprofit. Qaddafi was notoriously anti-Semitic—canceling all debts owed to Jews, among other things—and Diarna’s efforts to recruit local researchers failed. . . .

When fighting erupted in Libya, for example, reporters descended on the country, including one familiar with Diarna’s work. She contacted Guberman, offering to help him. Her only condition was anonymity. In May 2011, Guberman sent her a map of the Hara Kabira, the old Jewish quarter in Tripoli, to help her locate the Dar Bishi synagogue, the most beautiful in the city when it opened in 1928. After Qaddafi took power in the late 1960s, the government seized and shuttered all Jewish property in Libya. . . .

Guberman was cautiously optimistic that the rebels who ousted Qaddafi in 2011 might make it easier to access Jewish sites. A Libyan Jew named David Gerbi tested those expectations a few months later by returning to Tripoli from exile in Italy to restore the Dar Bishi synagogue. . . . Guberman wondered how locals would react. He soon found out. A group of protesters opposed to the synagogue’s restoration gathered in central Tripoli with signs denouncing Zionism and some declaring “there is no place for Jews in Libya.” Fearing for his safety, Gerbi abandoned his project and returned to Italy.

Read more at Newsweek

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arab anti-Semitism, Arab Spring, ISIS, Jewish World, Libya, Mizrahi Jewry

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