Hannah Arendt & Identity Politics

From a brief article on Hannah Arendt in the LA Review of Books:

The most famous case of Arendt misunderstanding — possibly willfully — the political effects of identity was on display in the controversy overEichmann in Jerusalem. In this book she examined the Jerusalem trial of the Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann, which she had covered for The New Yorker. Eichmann himself, Arendt said, represented the “banality of evil” rather than active, “eliminationalist” anti-Semitism. His actions were horrible not because he was animated by a desire to rid the world of Jews but because he was capable of killing from his desk, simply carrying out his orders. Worse than this apparent “diminishment” of Eichmann’s guilt, in the eyes of Arendt’s critics, was another dimension of her book, namely her observations on the role played by the Jewish Councils (Judenräte) that were instituted in the ghettos during the Holocaust, to whom the Nazis, in some cases, handed over the terrible task of deciding who would be shipped off to the camps. Arendt was incorrectly taken to be blaming the Jews for their own destruction, and attacked by a dazzling range of commentators from across the political spectrum. Among her accusers was her former friend, the historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem, who suggested that she lacked ahavat Israel — love of the Jewish people. Arendt famously replied that she did not understand the notion of loving a people. She loved her friends; when it came to the Jews, she “merely belong[ed] to them.”

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