Prophetic Warning

Against the Current, No. 128, May/June 2007

Hannah Arendt

[The following brief excerpt is taken from the beginning of the essay “Zionism Reconsidered,” by the dissident Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt, which appeared in The Menorah Journal, August 1945 and reprinted in the volume Zionism Reconsidered (Michael Selzer ed., The Macmillan Company, 1970). The centenary of the birth of this remarkable and complex author was observed in 2006. “Hannah Arendt always asked the right questions,” comments Norman Finkelstein, comparing her pioneering work on the Nazi genocide and anti-semitism to the shallow production of “Holocaust Studies” figures like Daniel Goldhagen in today’s degraded intellectual climate.

[In a future issue we hope to offer a deeper assessment of Hannah Arendt and her legacy. For the moment, much of her deeply humanistic but tragic world view is compressed in the closing sentences of “Zionism Reconsidered:” “It will not be easy either to save the Jews or to save Palestine in the twentieth century; that it can be done with categories and methods of the nineteenth century seems at the very most highly improbable. If Zionists persevere in retaining their sectarian ideology and continue with their short-sighted ‘realism,’ they will have forfeited even the small chances that small peoples still have in this none too beautiful world of ours.” — David Finkel for the editors of ATC]

THE END RESULT of fifty years of Zionist politics was embodied in the recent resolution of the largest and most influential section of the World Zionist Organization. American Zionists from left to right adopted unanimously [October 1944] the demand for a “free and democratic Jewish commonwealth…(which) shall embrace the whole of Palestine, undivided and undiminished.”

This is a turning-point in Zionist history; for it means that the Revisionist program [i.e. of the right wing of Zionism, predecessors of today’s Likud and further-right Israeli parties — ed.], so long bitterly repudiated, has proved finally victorious. The [1944] Resolution goes even a step further than the Biltmore Program (1942), in which the Jewish minority had granted minority rights to the Arab majority. This time the Arabs were simply not mentioned in the resolution, which obviously leaves them the choice between voluntary emigration or second-class citizenship. It seems to admit that only opportunist reasons had previously prevented the Zionist movement from stating its final aims…

It is a deadly blow to those Jewish parties in Palestine itself that have tirelessly preached the necessity of an understanding between the Arab and the Jewish peoples. On the other hand, it will considerably strengthen the majority under the leadership of Ben-Gurion, which, through the pressures of many injustices in Palestine and the terrible catastrophes in Europe, have turned more than ever nationalistic….

[As a result] Zionists have forfeited for a long time to come any chance of pourparlers with Arabs; for whatever Zionists may offer, they will not be trusted…

Prospects for Partition

(T)he British government may tomorrow decide to partition the country and may sincerely believe it has found a working compromise between Jewish and Arab demands … But it is simply preposterous to believe that further partition of so small a territory…could resolve the conflict of two peoples, especially in a period when similar conflicts are not territorially soluble on much larger areas.

Nationalism is bad enough when it trusts in nothing but the rude force of the nation. A nationalism that necessarily and admittedly depends upon the force of a foreign nation is certainly worse. This is the threatened fate of Jewish nationalism and of the proposed Jewish State…

Even a Jewish majority in Palestine — nay, even a transfer of all Palestine Arabs, which is openly demanded by Revisionists — would not substantially change a situation in which Jews must either ask protection from an outside power against their neighbors or effect a working agreement with their neighbors.

If such an agreement is not brought about, there is the imminent danger that, through their need and willingness to accept any power in the Mediterranean basin which might assure their existence, Jewish interests will clash with those of all other Mediterranean peoples; so that, instead of one “tragic conflict,” we shall face tomorrow as many insoluble conflicts as there are Mediterranean nations…

(T)he Zionists, if they continue to ignore the Mediterranean peoples and watch out only for the big faraway powers, will appear only as their tools, the agents of foreign and hostile interests. Jews who know their own history should be aware that such a state of affairs will inevitably lead to a new wave of Jew-hatred; the anti-Semitism of tomorrow will assert that Jews not only profiteered from the presence of the foreign big powers of that region but had actually plotted it and hence are guilty of the consequences.

ATC 128, May-June 2007