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No, Israel Isn’t on the Brink of Fascism

Jan. 26 2018

Not satisfied with proclaiming the imminent death of Israeli democracy, some on the Israeli left have begun warning that the country is sliding into fascism. One recent headline read, “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism.” To Ofir Haivry, these arguments are nonsense, and not only because they confuse off-the-cuff statements of fringe politicians with actual policy or depict fairly modest proposals as outrages against human decency:

Israel is certainly not a perfect place. Like any democratic state, it has its fair share of problems, conflicts, and quirks. But a democratic society with problems is a far, far cry from a non-democratic one; and an even farther cry from a fascistic one. But this basic category error—that a democracy with a few problems is equivalent to fascism—is not [new]. In fact, those who oppose democracy have often used a democracy’s compromises to claim a moral equivalence between those democracies and the deliberate evil of dictatorships.

The actions of democracies during World War II, such as the British “area bombing” of German cities and the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans, were and still are used quite often by spokesmen for dictatorships to allege a moral equivalence between the Western democracies and the Nazis. Maybe, so the narrative goes, the Nazis weren’t so bad if Churchill and Roosevelt were just as bad as Hitler? This equivalence is not only a misunderstanding of history; it’s a misunderstanding of what morality is.

To try to claim moral equivalence between the Nazis and even the most controversial actions taken by democracies defending themselves against mortal attacks—actions that, however misguided, are altogether of another order of magnitude than the deliberate planning and executing of genocide—is to erase the distinctions that make some humans into murderers. . . .

But by far the worst claim oft-repeated by [those] using the “Nazi” clickbait articles to describe Israel [is] that the views and actions of Israelis are “eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity.” In other words, [these authors] believe that the very legitimacy and existence of the Jewish state might be put into question by its policies. The argument that a country would lose the very legitimacy of its existence in such circumstances is not only ludicrous, it is immoral when raised only in the case of Israel, as if the Jewish state has some kind of special taint that has to be atoned for before it is allowed “legitimacy.”

Read more at Forward

More about: Fascism, Israel & Zionism, Israeli democracy, Nazism

 

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