In last year’s extensive commentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, one name—Hannah Arendt—was mentioned nearly as often as that of the trial’s notorious defendant. It’s hard to think of another major twentieth-century event so closely linked with one author’s interpretation of it. Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany at 27, was already an internationally renowned scholar and public intellectual when she arrived in Jerusalem in April 1961 to cover the trial for The New Yorker. Arendt’s five articles, which were then expanded into the 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, proved hugely controversial. Many Jewish readers—and non-Jews, too—were shocked by three principal themes in Arendt’s report: her portrayal of Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as the cynical puppet master manipulating the trial to serve the state’s Zionist ideology; her assertion that Eichmann was a faceless, unthinking bureaucrat, a cog in the machinery of the Final Solution rather than one of its masterminds; and her accusation that leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) in Nazi-occupied Europe had engaged in “sordid and pathetic” behavior, making it easier for the Nazis to manage the logistics of the extermination process.Arendt got pretty much everything wrong about Israel, but is regarded as a saint by the anti-Zionist Left. There are a number of cogent analogies between Arendt and today's leftist critics of Israel - including the charge of being "excommunicated" by the all powerful Jewish community when in fact their very criticism of Israel is what catapults them to fame.
Since the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, serious scholars have debunked the most inflammatory of Arendt’s charges. Nevertheless, for today’s defamers of Israel, Arendt is a patron saint, a courageous Jewish intellectual who saw Israel’s moral catastrophe coming. These leftist intellectuals don’t merely believe, as Arendt did, that she was the victim of “excommunication” for the sin of criticizing Israel. Their homage to Arendt runs deeper. In fact, their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel and exile it from the family of nations—another kind of excommunication, if you will—derives several of its themes from Arendt’s writings on Zionism and the Holocaust. Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies.
...When you review Hannah Arendt’s voluminous writings on Jewish affairs in the decades from 1942 to 1963, it is shocking to discover how mistaken she was on so many issues. She was wrong on the charge of “fascism” leveled against Jabotinsky, Bergson, and Begin; she was wrong in her judgment that the Soviet Union was protecting Jewish national rights; she was wrong to remain silent about the Roosevelt administration’s abandonment of the European Jews; she was wrong about Israel’s ability to defend itself in 1948 without foreign intervention; she was wrong in insisting that the binational approach provided a realistic solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict; and, above all, she was wrong to claim that the Holocaust had become Israel’s justification for abusing innocent Palestinians.
Despite these monumental errors of political and moral judgment, Arendt’s published work on Zionism, Israel, and the Holocaust continues to be viewed by leftist intellectuals as a model of truth-telling and integrity. In the pages of the liberal journals that Arendt once wrote for, we hear echoes of her disdain for a Jewish (now Israeli) tribalism that threatens world peace and universal human rights. How familiar it sounds when her disciples instruct the people of Israel that they must make amends for their previous sins by risking their own security and either ushering in an independent Palestinian state or creating a new binational state with their Palestinian brothers. Familiar, too, are the complaints of excommunication and suppression when the stubborn, parochial Jews decide to reject this gratuitous advice.
The article is well worth reading.