Welcome back to our salon, Hannah Arendt. Five years ago, you sat together with Donald Trump. Tonight, we are discussing not a wall between two countries but the lack thereof, not alleged criminals but potential war crimes. President Biden, welcome. Let us cut to the chase: what is your relationship to Zionism? 

JB: I am a Zionist.[i]

HA (smiling): I was a Zionist.[ii] 

Yikes, well, let’s start with you, Mr. President. Why?

JB: Every Jew in the world needs there to be an Israel. Israel is absolutely essential – absolutely essential – for the security of Jews around the world.[iii]

You are rolling your eyes, Ms. Arendt?

HA: [Eichmann’s] trial was supposed to convince them that only in Israel could a Jew be safe and live an honorable life.[iv]

That was more than 60 years ago. You were not too young then, Mr. President. When was the first time you visited Israel?

JB: Over 50 years ago, as a young senator, I visited Israel for the first time, as a newly elected senator. And I had a long, long trip – or meeting with Golda Meir in her office just before the Yom Kippur War.[v]

You also met Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ms. Arendt. You once recounted how she said she did not believe in God but believed in the Jewish people.

HA: I was too shocked to offer a response. But I could have replied that the magnificence of this people once lay in its belief in God – that is, its trust and love of God – which far outweighed its fear of God.[vi]

Our president is slightly more religious than yourself. But you both like St. Augustine…

JB: Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.[vii]

HA: [But] love that desires a worldly object, be it a thing or a person, is constantly frustrated in its very quest.[viii]

Is that why you could not love the Jewish people?

HA: I don’t love the Jews, nor do I believe in them. I belong to this people, in nature and in fact. We could speak politically about this issue, and then we would discuss the question of patriotism. We would both agree that patriotism is impossible without constant opposition and critique. In this entire affair I can confess to you one thing: that injustice committed by my own people naturally provokes me more than injustice done by others.[ix]

It is therefore, at the very least, not an unconditional love. What about unconditional aid? Mr. President, you have been criticized for the blank cheque to Israel with aid –

JB: susceptible to demagoguery, instead of an obligation?[x]

 HA: But even in this most rationalized form, the obligatory character of the good for man lies in God’s command. Thou shalt – the obligation being not the content of the law nor the possible consent of man to it, but the fact that God had told us so. Here, nothing counts but obedience.[xi]

JB: Our commitment to protect Israel’s security in my case is not just political or national interest; it’s personal. You’ve heard me say this to many of my friends out there before, but it bears repeating on this day; it began at my father’s dinner table. My father was a righteous Christian [and] talked about how he could not understand why there was a debate among Americans or why there was a debate among American Jews about whether or not we should have recognized Israel. I learned from my father about the concentration camps –[xii]

HA: – but in this audience there are hardly any young people, [only] survivors, middle-aged and elderly people, immigrants from Europe, like myself, who knew by heart all there is to know [about the camps], and who are in no mood to learn any lessons [from your beloved father!][xiii] In politics, love is a stranger, and when it intrudes, nothing is being achieved except hypocrisy.[xiv]

Let’s calm down, please – fine, let’s talk about the present. Should we re-imagine the State of Israel?

JB: When we came to office, when it came to standing up for Israel’s security both in terms of the threat it faces and countering those who seek to delegitimize Israel – this is the most concerted effort in my 36 years in the Senate that I have seen an effort to literally delegitimize Israel as a nation state –[xv]

HA: – refugees and the stateless have attached themselves like a curse to all the newly established states on earth which were created in the image of the nation-state. For these new states this curse bears the germs of a deadly sickness.[xvi]

JB: Is the independence of any nation secure?[xvii]

HA: The nation-state cannot exist once its principle of equality before the law has broken down. Without this legal equality, which originally was destined to replace the older laws and orders of the feudal society, the nation dissolves into an anarchic mass of over- and underprivileged individuals.[xviii]

JB: America is a nation –[xix]

HA: – the US is not a nation-state. There are no authentic natives here, except for the Indians –[xx]

I hear commotion… wait, it’s coming from outside – anti-Biden chants audible – voices of students, oh, no, security is escorting you out, Mr. President – he’s gone –  gosh, well, Ms. Arendt, I hope you don’t fault your students for being political and cutting our dialogue short?  

HA: The politicization of the universities by the students’ movement was preceded by the politicization of the universities by the established powers.[xxi]

Do you believe these student protests are motivated by anti-Semitism? Do you sense anti-Arab sentiments brewing?

HA: There was once a day when the cry, ‘Death to the Jews,’ echoed through the length and breadth of a modern state… Time had caused men to forget the Algerian pogroms [against the Jews] instigated and carried out not, as was claimed, by ‘backward Arabs’ but by thoroughly sophisticated officers of the French colonial administration.[xxii]

Those in power once again responsible – got it. Will you keep President Biden in power come next November? Next to Trump he is presumably the lesser evil, the moderate option…

HA: The revolution is saved by the man in the middle, who, far from being moderate, liquidates both right and left, as Robespierre had liquidated Danton and Hébert.[xxiii]

A terrorizing prospect. Well then, Ms. Arendt, thank you for your time. I hope we can have you in our salon again if… or when… we put an end to the genocide in Gaza.



[i] Spetalnick, Matt. ‘I am a Zionist’: How Joe Biden’s lifelong bond with Israel shapes war policy. Reuters. October 21, 2023.

[ii] Graubart, Jonathan. Reimagining Zionism and Coexistence after Oslo’s Death: Lessons from Hannah Arendt. Arendt Studies 3 (2019): 69–91.

[iii] Biden, Joseph. Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden the 67th Annual Israeli Independence Day Celebration. White House Archives. April 23, 2015

[iv] Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem. Viking Press, 1963.

[v] Biden, Joseph. Remarks by President Biden on the Terrorist Attacks in Israel. White House Archives. October 10, 2023

[vi] Arendt, Hannah, Scholem, Gershom. The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.

[vii] Biden, Joseph. Inaugural Address by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. White House Archives. January 20, 2021

[viii] Arendt, Hannah. Love and St Augustine. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

[ix] Arendt, Hannah, Scholem, Gershom. The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem. The University of Chicago Press, 2017.

[x] Killgore, Andrew. AIPAC 1992. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1992.

[xi] Arendt. Hannah. “Some Questions of Moral Philosophy.” Social Research, vol. 61, no. 4, 1994, pp. 739–64. JSTOR.

[xii] Biden, Joseph. Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden the 67th Annual Israeli Independence Day Celebration. White House Archives. April 23, 2015.

[xiii] Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem. Viking Press, 1963.

[xiv] Arendt, Hannah. Letter to James Baldwin. November 21, 1962

[xv] Bernstein, Jarrod In the Heart of Motor City, Vice President Biden Addresses Yeshiva Beth Yehuda. White House Archives. November 18. 2011.

[xvi] Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. Meridian, 1951.

[xvii] Biden, Joseph. Remarks by President Biden Before the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. White House Archives. Sep 19. 2023.

[xviii] Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. Meridian, 1951.

[xix] Biden, Joseph. Remarks by President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the Senate’s Historic, Bipartisan Confirmation of Judge Jackson to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. White House Archives. April 8. 2022.

[xx] Hannah Arendt Interview. Un Certain Regard. Broadcast July 6, 1974.

[xxi] Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. Penguin, 1970.

[xxii] Arendt, Hannah. “From the Dreyfus Affair to France Today.” Jewish Social Studies 4, no. 3 (1942): 195–240.

[xxiii] Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. Penguin, 1970.