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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter July 16, 2001

In a Different Voice: Nathan Alterman and Hannah Arendt on the Kastner and Eichmann Trials

  • Leora Bilsky

This essay examines the Kastner trial and the Eichmann trial as constitutive moments in the development of Israeli collective identity. This aspect of the trials is explored by comparing the intervention of two intellectuals, Nathan Alterman and Hannah Arendt, in the two trials respectively. Both social critics challenged the terms of the collective identity that was reinforced by the trials. During the Kastner trial, the Israeli poet Alterman set out to challenge the "two paths" conception of heroism and cowardice that shaped the court's - and society's - understanding of the Holocaust. The first part of the essay examines Alterman's critical intervention and the public controversy that followed in its wake. In the second part, I examine Arendt's criticism of the Eichmann trial as an attempt to construct Israeli collective identity around opposition to the demonic Nazi In this context, I discuss the famous controversy between Arendt and Gershom Scholem over the terms of her criticism. The two episodes come together in the third part of the essay, where I discuss the surprising continuities and affinities between the controversies. The two controversies offer a fascinating tale about the role of the law in the construction of collective identities and the role of the social critic in the development of a liberal society.

Published Online: 2001-7-16

©2011 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/Boston

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