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  • Writer's pictureOmer Eilam

An open letter to Hannah Arendt

Dear Hannah,

Fifty nine years ago you visited this country for the Eichmann trial and the events that you witnessed shaped the course of its history. At stake was nothing less than the portrayal of the Holocaust in the minds and hearts of the people as either fundamentally anti-semitic or the consequence of a totalitarian system; as the chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner said in his opening statement: "It is not an individual that is in the dock at this historic trial and not the Nazi regime alone, but anti-semitism throughout history.”

Everyone, especially those of us who were born and raised in Israel, knows that you lost that battle. We have no doubt that anti-semitism was at the root of the Holocaust. But are we aware of the consequences of that line of thought? If the horrible deeds committed by the Nazis can be attributed to anti-semitism alone then what follows is that we, as Jews, are immune to such motives. But are we really?

Driving home from a Dharma talk about the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, I saw a huge billboard at a central crossroad. On the billboard were images of the senior political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and the President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Both of them are blindfolded and with a gesture of surrender, while in the background Israeli military helicopters hover over the ruins of Gaza. A huge inscription in the middle reads: “Peace is done only with defeated enemies”.

If you saw us now, dear Hannah, what would you say? Perhaps you would remind us about the 'banality of evil’, the contrast between a man’s evil and his mediocrity. Perhaps you would urge us to open our eyes and see clearly the atrocities which we inflict on the other. Or perhaps you already said all you had to say after the trial: "Eichman was quite intelligent but he had that dumbness. It was that dumbness that was so infuriating and that was what I meant by ‘banality'. It has no depth, it isn’t demonic. It’s simply the unwillingness to ever imagine what others are going through”.

Dear Hannah, you fought to show us that the real monster is not the other but that it lies deep within ourselves when we lose the ability to think. You lost that battle but the war is still waging.

"Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen”



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