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Feb. 13, 2024 - 4 Adar 

02/12/2024 01:54:09 PM


The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Europe’s leading newspapers, has become a major source for my regular, nearly daily explorations of world news. As American journalism is increasingly eclipsed in these days of electronic publication coupled with decreasing advertising revenues, I find the limited coverage of all but the most shocking events across the seas leaves a big hole in my understanding of the world and its dynamic state.

My attention was drawn to an essay entitled “Was BDS Wirklich Bedeutet” – The real meaning of BDS [Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions]. The essay describes a planned public reading of the entirety of Hannah Arendt’s seminal volume, The Origins of Totalitarianism, in a former rail terminal as performance art. The reading scheduled to last about 100 hours, open to the museum-going public, was itself an act of protest in a democratic nation examining the fragility of its freedoms in the face of rising xenophobia and in the wake of the Third Reich, the perpetrator of the Holocaust against Jews [if you use the translate function on your device, you can see the article here: Hannah-Arendt-Lesung in Berlin: Was BDS wirklich heißt (]

If you are unfamiliar with the Author, Hannah Arendt was a Jew born and educated in pre-Nazi Europe, who escaped and had a strong influence during decades of public life in the United States, including her reportage on the trial of Adolph Eichmann—designer of the ‘Final Solution’—through which she coined the term ‘the banality of Evil’. She remained a controversial figure through decades at New York’s New School for Social Research where refugee scholars of the period joined in reviving the closed Frankfurt School, known for its important theoretical development of social theory [you might explore Theodor Adorno, its iconic central figure].

The new essay notes:

“For [the protesters against the reading] all that matters was that Hannah Arendt was a Jew. They took over the room, insulted the reader and museum directorate, and saw to it that the performance, planned to continue through to Sunday evening, had to be interrupted on Sunday morning for reasons of security. “We invite our visitors to consider the meaning of this disrespect to art”, the museum director posted on Instagram…” [my translation from FAZ .net as cited above]

The author concludes:

“Anyone who did not know before exactly what the goal of the BDS movement, now can see clearly: Their goal is the end of [critical] thinking, of the dialogue and the debate—to be replaced by the rule of outcry and violence. The methods and origins are laid in clear daylight in the Hamburg Station.”

This might seem an esoteric discussion, yet I cannot escape the conclusion that reduplicating reports of antisemitic and frequent ‘othering’ of minorities in our own community and throughout the United States, or the eruptions of aggressions against outsiders are directly linkable to the proximate disruption of Israel’s continuing fight with Hamas; they also sit well with forces that have been accelerating their nationalistic bigotry in recent years. 

As so often over years and decades, violent eruptions and caustic incivility, graffiti and criminal activity have come to light in the most unexpected places—schools, houses of worship, public celebrations—whose goal is anarchy in the service of assertion of authority and control. The underlying principle is all too often power, control and limitation of freedom.

My concerns, however, are not limited or even primarily local. The contrast between the streets of Israel’s urban centers and the arid hills of the West Bank now dotted with Israeli settlements whose occupants are deeply committed to the untenable Eretz Yisraeil ha-Sh’leimah—entirety of the Biblical land of Israel—and regularly harassing the legitimate occupants of the area that could/should already be a Palestinian enclave is appalling. So, too, are the well-documented uses of civilian shields in Gaza and southern Lebanon by Hamas or Hezbollah that have brought the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]—and indeed, the world Jewish community—into ever sharper conflict with the world of diplomacy and politics, claiming Israel for the enormous, enormously pitiful, death toll in Gaza that seems to grow by about 1,000 each day.

Tradition has long taught, Kawl Yisra-eil Arevim zeh bazeh—all of Israel/the Jewish People share a common destiny. In our days, it is increasingly true for kawl yoshvei tevel—all people on the shrinking planet. 

The banality of evil remains our chief foe; evil is inextinguishable—we dare not accept that it ever again becomes banal—that is ordinary, acceptable or normal.


Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784