“Is It Possible to be a Jewish Intellectual?” is an expansive six-thousand-one-hundred-word essay written by Sociology Professor Eva Illouz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that was published this week in Haaretz, Israel’s equivalent of The New York Times. It is a must-read piece for both Israelis and American Jews. I am grateful to my friend Mike Rogoff in Jerusalem for sending me the link to it. [Note: You must be a subscriber to Haaretz to access the article. In my view, this article makes a subscription worthwhile in and of itself]. http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/.premium-1.585401
Dr. Illouz considers in-depth the concepts of “Ahavat Yisrael – Love for Israel” and “Solidarity for the Jewish people” as well as the ethical and tribal challenges that confront intellectuals in remaining detached from their national or religious group in order to retain their moral integrity.
Dr. Illouz begins her discussion by citing the famous exchange between Gershom Scholem, the great 20th century scholar of Jewish mysticism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Hannah Arendt, the German Jewish political theorist who covered the Adolph Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and who wrote a number of essays about it in The New Yorker and a book entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem.
After their publication Scholem accused Arendt, as a Jew, of
“…not having enough ‘ahavat Yisrael – love for the Jewish nation and people’ …. Instead of displaying what we would have expected from a Jew on such an occasion – undiluted horror at Eichmann’s deeds; unreserved compassion for the moral dilemmas of the Jewish leaders who dealt with the Nazis; solidarity with the State of Israel – Arendt analyzed each one with a cold sense of truth and justice, and blurred the moral terms in which these had been hitherto judged by the public.”
Dr. Illouz goes on to discuss the forces that have influenced contemporary American Jewish identity in light of the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, American Jewish political advocacy for Israel, and American Jewish organizational politics, all of which have served to embrace a priori the Jewish principle of “Ahavat Yisrael – Love of the people of Israel” as identical with “hyper-solidarity” with the political State of Israel and its policies regardless of their moral imperfections.
This essay lays the ground for us to consider both the nature of Israeli and American Jewish identity since the establishment of the state of Israel and the consequences of Israel having assumed political and governmental power as a nation-state for the first time in two thousand years. It also considers the impact of American Jewish organizational support for Israel and what it means to be pro-Israel.