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The Ottoman Balfour Declaration

As Martin Kramer has explained in Mosaic, the Balfour Declaration was not a unilateral move by Britain but was supported by an international consensus of the Western Allies then fighting in World War I. What’s more, writes Wolfgang Schwanitz, the Jewish claim to the land of Israel also came to be supported by the Ottoman empire, which was then fighting with Germany against the Allies. The Ottoman grand vizier, Talaat Pasha, issued an official statement lifting all restrictions on Jewish immigration to Ottoman-controlled Palestine and expressing his “sympathies for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center” there. Although the statement was a dead letter, delivered eight months after the British seizure of Palestine and less than three months before Istanbul surrendered, Schwanitz argues that it should nonetheless be taken seriously:

Talaat’s . . . statement was extraordinary in two key respects: the religious and the national. On the former level, the pledge to treat Palestine’s Jewish community on the basis of “complete equality with the other elements of the population” ran counter to the sociopolitical order of things underpinning [the Ottoman empire], whereby political power was vested with the Muslim majority while non-Muslim minorities were tolerated subjects (or dhimmis), who enjoyed protection and autonomy in the practice of their religious affairs yet were legally, institutionally, and socially inferior to their Muslim rulers.

Likewise, the sympathetic allusion to “the Jewish nation,” let alone to the creation of a “Jewish national center in Palestine,” was antithetical to the [general Muslim] perception of Jews as a religious community rather than a national group. . . .

[While] it is possible that Talaat knew full well that he would never have to implement the declaration, in view of Russia’s March 1918 departure from the war on highly favorable terms to the Triple Alliance (German-Austrian-Ottoman), and the [initial success of the] spring 1918 German offensive in Western Europe, the outcome of the war remained undecided for some time.

Scwhanitz goes on to argue that German pressure above all secured this declaration, suggesting that yet another European power joined in the international consensus on Zionism.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Balfour Declaration, Germany, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Ottoman Empire, World War I

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