TIME CAPSULE, 1948: ALBERT EINSTEIN AND HANNAH ARENDT AGAINST MENACHEM BEGIN
Economic boycotts, blockades, and divestment campaigns are all strong medicine in the realm of international policy. Has the U.S. embargo against Cuba done anything to undermine that regime-- or has it hardened the will of the Communist Party? Did the U.S. economic blockade of Iraq do anything to undermine the Ba'ath regime-- or did the real burden fall upon many thousands of the poor, sick, elderly, and infants?
In the case of South Africa, there is wide acknowledgement that economic divestment was one factor among many which helped to end the apartheid regime. The resistance movement within South Africa deserved greater credit.
In recent debates about using economic boycotts to pressure the Israeli government, some have claimed that any analogy whatsoever between Israel and South Africa is outrageous. But analogies are not equations. Historical analogies are necessary, otherwise every nation without exception is "exceptional."
Is Zionism a coherent ideology? Historically, there have been many Zionisms. These have ranged from an almost utopian socialist Zionism on the left, all the way over to corporate and authoritarian "Revisionist" Zionism on the right. There have also been distinctly cultural forms of Zionism which had little or nothing to do with a "Jewish State" as such. In the sphere of cultural Zionism, one of the classic examples will always include Ahad Ha'am-- the pen name of Asher Ginzburg-- whose books and essays are quite useless as partisan propaganda. Zionists in the mold of Sharon and Netanyahu have little patience with such idealists. They consider themselves "practical" politicians, but what have their own ideologies meant in practice for the state of Israel? Ahad Ha'am broke away from all orthodox religion but he still hoped that Zion-- a communal venture, both linguistic and ethical-- might be "a light unto the nations."
In recent debates online, there have been ongoing and sweeping accusations of antisemitism made against anyone who opposes the current doctrines and policies of the Israeli government. The suggestion has even been made that antisemitism runs so deep in the age-old collective unconsciousness of antisemites that they are very nearly an accursed species helpless to help themselves. This is, after all, a reversion to old racial doctrines.
Here is a sad sign of the times: Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leading ideologist of Revisionist Zionism, has been given a revisionist burnishing by Hillel Halkin in a recent issue of The New Republic. Halkin's main message is that Jabotinsky wrote "a remarkably good novel."
Halkin also gives the impression that Jabotinsky was a gentleman of the old school who had only a passing acquaintance with fascism.
Lenni Brenner, however, gives much evidence to the contrary. In his book Zionism in the Age of Dictators (published online), Brenner examines the actual links and influence between Italian fascism and Revisionist Zionism. Brenner notes that Jabotinsky wrote a novel titled Samson which "remains one of the classics of totalitarian literature," and indeed Brenner tells an altogether more complex story about Jabotinsky's relations with the followers of Mussolini-- Gentiles and Jews alike (see excerpt below):
In order to gain some historical perspective on today's ruling version of Zionism, it helps to remember two facts of immense importance in any discussion of Israel. First, free and far ranging discussions of Zionism are presently more common in the better Israeli newspapers such as Ha'aretz than in newspapers such as The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times; and second, we would have to relegate Jewish intellectuals such as Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes to the ranks of antisemites if we insist on making dogmatic judgments about their criticisms of political and state Zionism. In some respects, Noam Chomsky and other Jewish intellectuals are reviving this older critique of state Zionism-- and they have also been slandered in familiar terms.
This is essentialy a debate about nationalism, militarism and human rights. Consequently, this debate is international-- and properly historical. In that spirit, certain passages in Elizabeth Young-Bruehl's biography of Hannah Arendt are worth special attention (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, Yale University Press, 1982). Young-Bruehl sought to distinguish the views of Hannah Arendt and Judah Magnes-- but also to emphasize how much they had in common.
"Whenever Arendt wrote about Palestine, she repeated her prophecy that political organization in the postwar world might take one of two forms, empires or federations, and that the Jewish people would only have a chance for survival if federations were formed. She had desperately urged her people to avoid establishing a Jewish state which would only be a 'sphere of interest' in foreign powers' empires..."
For his part, Judah Magnes and a small group of colleagues "offered a general proposal for a binational state in Palestine in which neither Jews nor Arabs would be a minority and both would have equal rights... Magnes accepted the State of Israel after its May eighteenth birth, but he did not abandon his dream of Jewish-Arab cooperation."
In 1948, Arendt wrote, "Local self-government and mixed Jewish-Arab municipal and rural Councils, on a small scale and as numerous as possible, are the only realistic political measures that can eventually lead to the political emancipation of Palestine." To prevent the ascendancy of Jewish and Arab terrorists to power, Arendt also hoped to forestall the partition of Palestine. Thus she supported President Truman's proposal-- and Count Bernadotte's second proposal (before his assassination)--for an interim United Nations trusteeship of Palestine. Arendt hoped such a UN trusteeship would give all people in Palestine the time to learn to live as neighbors.
Magnes and Arendt corresponded with respect on both sides, and worked together politically as far as possible. As Young-Bruehl wrote:
"The two choices Arendt saw were stark: Bernadotte's second proposal for a UN trusteeship or a Jewish -Arab confederation along Magnes' lines. Hannah Arendt, invoking feasability, had argued for the first.
"Judah Magnes died on the morning of 27 October  without having answered his own question about the way out. For his supporters, it was clear that their own work could not go on without him, though they tried for a time to keep his ideas alive through the Judah Magnes Foundation. Hannah wrote to Magnes' old friend Hans Kohn, who was teaching at Smith College, on 12 November: 'Magnes's death is a real tragedy at this moment. Nobody has his moral authority. I don't see anybody, moreover, who lives really in the Jewish world and who is prominent in a Jewish institution who would have the courage to speak up against what is going on now.' All that she herself could do was to join a group of prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, who submitted a letter of protest to The New York Times when the Jewish terrorist, Menachem Begin, came to America in search of support for the Revisionists of his Herut party. The protest flatly compared the Revisionists 'to the Nazi and Fascist parties' and repudiated the blend in their ideology of 'ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority.' "
As Young-Bruehl mentioned in her biography of Arendt (footnote #41, page 513), "Arendt may have drafted this letter, as one of the signers, Zellig Harris, thanked her for it in an undated letter to her; Library of Congress."
We can easily dismiss the ideas of Arendt and Magnes-- all too easily if retrospective "realism" and "pragmatism" settle all moral and historical questions. If we give way to that temptation, we will have plenty of company. After all, militant nationalism has been one of the louder triumphal creeds for over two hundred years. Has that faith served us well? Arendt, Magnes, Einstein and others hoped to keep that question open.
This question of nationalism cannot be settled by an "equal and opposite" doctrine. Arendt was very alert in that regard, and she had a kind of political perfect pitch when turning this matter over in her own mind and in her published works. Arendt wrote a fine essay on Rosa Luxemburg which is included in Arendt's book Men in Dark Times. (Arendt's essay also serves as the introduction to an edition of J.P. Nettl's biography of Luxemburg.) Arendt noted that Luxemburg was not an orthodox Marxist, though she gave her life in the struggle for socialism. If Marx can bring a better view of reality, that was good enough for Luxemburg. As Luxemburg noted (and Arendt quoted): "I now have a horror of the much praised first volume of Marx's Capital because of its elaborate rococo ornaments a la Hegel." Lenin objected that The Accumulation of Capital, Luxemburg's great work on imperialism, was suspect in the realm of Marxist theory. Yet Luxemburg came closer to reality in her survey of the global economy-- and this is what matters most, not being a faithful disciple.
In the same spirit of attention to reality, Arendt criticised Luxemburg's "often doctrinaire internationalism." What Arendt said on this subject remains pointed and resonant:
"It is even more suggestive that the national question is the only issue on which one could accuse Rosa Luxemburg of self-deception and unwillingness to face reality. That this had something to do with her Jewishness is undeniable, although it is of course 'lamentably absurd' to discover in her anti-nationalism 'a peculiarly Jewish quality.' Mr. Nettl, while hiding nothing, is rather careful to avoid the 'Jewish question,' and in view of the usually low level of debates on this issue one can only applaud his decision. Unfortunately, his understandable distaste has blinded him to the few important facts in this matter, which is all the more to be regretted since these facts, though of a simple, elementary nature, also escaped the otherwise so sensitive and alert mind of Rosa Luxemburg.
"The first of these is what only Nietzsche, as far as I know, has ever pointed out, namely, that the position and functions of the Jewish people in Europe predestined them to become the 'good Europeans' par excellence. The Jewish middle classes of Paris and London, Berlin and Vienna, Warsaw and Moscow, were in fact neither cosmopolitan nor international, though the intellectuals among them thought of themselves in these terms. They were European, something that could be said of no other group. And this was not a matter of conviction; it was an objective fact. In other words, while the self-deception of assimilated Jews usually consisted in the mistaken belief that they were just as German as the Germans, just as French as the French, the self-deception of the intellectual Jews consisted in thinking that they had no 'fatherland,' for their fatherland actually was Europe. There is, second, the fact that at least the East-European intelligentsia was multilingual-- Rosa Luxemburg herself spoke Russian, Polish, German, and French fluently and knew English and Italian very well. They never understood the importance of language barriers and why the slogan , 'The fatherland of the working class is the Socialist movement,' should be so disastrously wrong precisely for the working classes. It is indeed more than a little disturbing that Rosa Luxemburg herself, with her acute sense of reality and strict avoidance of cliches, should not have heard what was wrong with the slogan on principle. A fatherland, after all, is first of all a 'land'; an organization is not a country, not even metaphorically. There is indeed grim justice in the later transformation of the slogan, 'The fatherland of the working class is Soviet Russia'-- Russia was at least a 'land'-- which put an end to the utopian internationalism of this generation.
"One could adduce more such facts, and it still would be difficult to claim that Rosa Luxemburg was entirely wrong on the national question. What, after all, has contributed more to the catastrophic decline of Europe than the insane nationalism which accompanied the decline of the nation state in the era of imperialism? Those whom Nietzsche had called 'good Europeans'-- a very small minority even among the Jews-- might well have been the only ones to have a presentiment of the disastrous consequences ahead, although they were unable to gauge correctly the enormous force of nationalist feeling in a decaying body politic."
Was Arendt simply recommending a return to the European Enlightenment? She was, in fact, a radical republican-- radical in the specific sense of returning to the roots of a tradition. Arendt was so old fashioned that she frequently harked back to the ancient Greeks and Romans (which, as it happens, was a very "German" habit in her particular milieu of Jewish and Gentile scholars.) But she also recognized that there had been a radical rupture in the politics and public morality of Europe. One way or another, wars and death camps had to be accounted for, without nostalgia and without partisan illusions.
Rosa Luxemburg was murdered in Berlin in 1919-- as Arendt wrote, "under the eyes and probably with the connivance of the Socialist regime then in power. The murderers were members of the ultra-nationalist and officially illegal Freikorps, a paramilitary organization from which Hitler's storm troopers were soon to recruit their most promising killers."
Luxemburg's internationalism meant that she allowed no "special pleading" for Jews. Luxemburg could be quite stern on that subject, writing in a personal letter that any victim of injustice anywhere in the world was just as dear to her as a Jewish victim of a pogrom. That is a position which commands respect, but it remains a historical position. Luxemburg, so prophetic in many other political matters, hardly envisioned the specific trajectory of antisemitism in the first half of twentieth century German history.
Arendt, however, lived through World War Two; and she lived to write a book titled The Origins of Totalitarianism - not the first nor last word on that subject, but a book which will remain a classic while many of Arendt's critics might rank as footnotes. In an interview in 1964, Arendt stated, "If one is attacked as a Jew, one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man." Her point was both reasonable and democratic, namely, that only particular persons can ever embody "universal rights." Those who might extract any kind of partisan nationalism from her words have convenient memories; they will deliberately forget the full range of Arendt's work.
Each passing year brings more proof of "the enormous force of nationalist feeling in a decaying body politic." The corporatist and mystical Hindutva squads of India; the inane and grandiose official "Republican" ideology of the French ruling class; the mobs on the beaches of Australia and the Conservative Prime Minister who will not dare call them racist; the Yale graduate who learned nothing but business as usual and who grabbed the White House like prime real estate; the Schwarzenegger who married the Kennedy and makes nice with vigilantes on the southwest border; the Central Committee in China commanding troops to shoot and kill peasants and workers for the sake of proletarian unity; the export of "democracy" round the world by means of missiles and mercenaries; all prove the enormous force of old nationalist ideologies in the twenty-first century.
The politicians in Congress have no serious complaint against the wall Israel has built to shield itself from neighbors it can neither live with nor live without. In fact, Hillary Clinton made a point of posing beside that wall as a photo op in her ongoing campaign for higher office. Those politicians like Israel's wall so much that they just voted to build one of their very own along the southern border with Mexico. Americans up north likewise cannot live with nor live without Americans down south; and the club which passes for "We, the People" in Congress will continue speaking in our names until we speak up for ourselves. The White House has likewise become an ideological bunker. The views expressed by press secretaries are not simply lies, because the lies express an actual world-view: namely, that big political goals require big political lies. Thus those who wage "the war against terror" have been very casual in accounting for civilian casualties. Even within our borders there is a Grand Canyon of disconnection between the labor "We, the People" demand of immigrants and the homeland we demand for ourselves alone; and we bridge that awful gap by advertising our good will. Televangelism may be enough to fool some of the people some of the time; but it won't be enough to win peace after reckless crusades abroad, nor provide health care in the next epidemic, nor give shelter in the next hurricane.
In the twenty first century, we, the people can honor the American Revolution with a rebellion against career politicians and corporate government. Indeed, every vote counts: each thought, each word, each vote we cast against war and for peace will count toward reclaiming our country. Then our republic may have democracy enough to offer to the world in turn.
Zionism in the Age of Dictators, Leni Brenner
In December 1948, on the occasion of his first visit to the United States, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and others sent a letter to the New York Times exposing Begin's politics. Given the record of his movement and his intimate associations with the openly Fascist elements of pre-war Revisionism, their evaluation of Begin's ideological commitment bears quotation:
Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our time is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the 'Freedom Party' (Tnuat HaHerut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties... They have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority... they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model... In the light of the forgoing considerations, it is imperative that the truth about Mr Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin's efforts.
by John Spritzler
Jan 26, 2005
Albert Einstein, on April 17, 1938, in a speech at the Commodore Hotel in New York City, said:
"I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain -- especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state."
In January, 1946, in a reply to the question of whether refugee settlement in Palestine demanded a Jewish state, Einstein told the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry,
"The State idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-minded and economic obstacles. I believe it is bad. I have always been against it."
On December 4, 1948 Einstein, Hannah Arendt and a number of other eminent Jews co-signed a letter to the New York Times on the occasion of (future Israeli prime minister) Menachem Begin's visit to the United States. The letter began as follows:
"Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
"The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents."
Alfred M. Lilienthal, in What Price Israel?, recounts that on April 1, 1952, in a message to the Children of Palestine, Inc., Einstein "spoke of the necessity to curb 'a kind of nationalism' which has arisen in Israel 'if only to permit a friendly and fruitful co-existence with the Arabs.'" Lilienthal also relates a personal conversation with Einstein: "Dr Einstein told me that, strangely enough, he had never been a Zionist and had never favored the creation of the State of Israel. Also, he told me of a significant conversation with [Chaim] Weizmann [leader of the World Zionist Organization.] Einstein had asked him: 'What about the Arabs if Palestine were given to the Jews?' And Weizman said: 'What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence'."
Judah Magnes, the first Chancellor of Israel's Hebrew University, opposed the "Jewish state" idea because, as he expressed it in his diary in 1942, "The slogan 'Jewish state' (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs."
For Zionist leaders, contempt for Arabs was at the core of their outlook, because they understood perfectly well that they were leading an unprovoked attack on Palestinians which could only be justified by demeaning Palestinians as less than fully human. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, told the Political Committee of his party, Mapai, in 1938,
"When we say that the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves -- that is only half the truth. As regards our security and life we defend ourselves...But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict, which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves."
Letter to The New York Times December 4, 1948
New Palestine Party Visit of Menachem Begin and Aims of Political Movement Discussed
TO THE EDITORS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES: Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.
Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions, public manifestations in Begin's behalf, and the creation in Palestine of the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives of Mr. Begin and his movement.
The public avowals of Begin's party are no guide whatever to its actual character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do in the future.
Attack on Arab Village
A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. This village, off the main roads and surrounded by Jewish lands, had taken no part in the war, and had even fought off Arab bands who wanted to use the village as their base. On April 9 (THE NEW YORK TIMES), terrorist bands attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the fighting, killed most of its inhabitants-240 men, women, and children-and kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicized it widely, and invited all the foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses and the general havoc at Deir Yassin.
The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the Freedom Party.
Within the Jewish community they have preached an admixture of ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model.
During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods, beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.
The people of the Freedom Party have had no part in the constructive achievements in Palestine. They have reclaimed no land, built no settlements, and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity. Their much-publicized immigration endeavors were minute, and devoted mainly to bringing in Fascist compatriots.
The discrepancies between the bold claims now being made by Begin and his party, and their record of past performance in Palestine bear the imprint of no ordinary political party. This is the unmistakable stamp of a Fascist party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike), and misrepresentation are means, and a "Leader State" is the goal.
In the light of the foregoing considerations, it is imperative that the truth about Mr. Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused to campaign against Begin's efforts, or even to expose to its own constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.
The undersigned therefore take this means of publicly presenting a few salient facts concerning Begin and his party; and of urging all concerned not to support this latest manifestation of fascism.
RABBI JESSURUN CARDOZO,
HERMAN EISEN, M.D.,
M. GALLEN, M.D.,
ZELIG S. HARRIS,
IRMA L. LINDHEIM,
MYER D. MENDELSON, M.D.,
HARRY M. OSLINSKY,
LOUIS P. ROCKER,
New York, Dec. 2, 1948
The text of the open letter has been published in Wrestling with Zion, an anthology edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon, NY: Grove Press, 2003, pp.27-29)