Eichmann in Jerusalem


Hannah Arendt

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David Ben-Gurion Character Analysis

A leader in the Israeli independence movement and the first Prime Minister of Israel, Ben-Gurion orchestrated Eichmann’s kidnapping in Argentina and, according to Arendt, served as the “invisible stage manager” for the “show trial” in Jerusalem, helping the prosecutor Gideon Hausner turn Eichmann’s case into a referendum on the power and legitimacy of the Israeli state.

David Ben-Gurion Quotes in Eichmann in Jerusalem

The Eichmann in Jerusalem quotes below are all either spoken by David Ben-Gurion or refer to David Ben-Gurion. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Banality of Evil Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Eichmann in Jerusalem published in 1963.
Chapter 1 Quotes

In this respect, perhaps even more significantly than in others, the deliberate attempt at the trial to tell only the Jewish side of the story distorted the truth, even the Jewish truth. The glory of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and the heroism of the few others who fought back lay precisely in their having refused the comparatively easy death the Nazis offered them—before the firing squad or in the gas chamber. And the witnesses in Jerusalem who testified to resistance and rebellion, to “the small place [it had] in the history of the holocaust,” confirmed once more the fact that only the very young had been capable of taking “the decision that we cannot go and be slaughtered like sheep.”

Related Characters: Gideon Hausner, David Ben-Gurion
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

In other words, and despite pages and pages of legal argument, based on so many precedents that one finally got the impression that kidnaping was among the most frequent modes of arrest, it was Eichmann’s de facto statelessness, and nothing else, that enabled the Jerusalem court to sit in judgment on him. Eichmann, though no legal expert, should have been able to appreciate that, for he knew from his own career that one could do as one pleased only with stateless people; the Jews had had to lose their nationality before they could be exterminated.

Related Characters: Adolf Eichmann, David Ben-Gurion
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

In the eyes of the Jews, thinking exclusively in terms of their own history, the catastrophe that had befallen them under Hitler, in which a third of the people perished, appeared not as the most recent of crimes, the unprecedented crime of genocide, but, on the contrary, as the oldest crime they knew and remembered. This misunderstanding, almost inevitable if we consider not only the facts of Jewish history but also, and more important, the current Jewish historical self-understanding, is actually at the root of all the failures and shortcomings of the Jerusalem trial. None of the participants ever arrived at a clear understanding of the actual horror of Auschwitz, which is of a different nature from all the atrocities of the past, because it appeared to prosecution and judges alike as not much more than the most horrible pogrom in Jewish history. They therefore believed that a direct line existed from the early anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party to the Nuremberg Laws and from there to the expulsion of Jews from the Reich and, finally, to the gas chambers. Politically and legally, however, these were “crimes” different not only in degree of seriousness but in essence.

Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
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David Ben-Gurion Character Timeline in Eichmann in Jerusalem

The timeline below shows where the character David Ben-Gurion appears in Eichmann in Jerusalem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The House of Justice
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
...trial sometimes lapses into showmanship—the courthouse is built like a theater, and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion is the trial’s “invisible stage manager.” He speaks through the obedient prosecutor, Attorney General Gideon... (full context)
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
...and instead focus singularly on the actions and guilt of the diminutive and awkward defendant. Ben-Gurion, contrary to Justice, allows Hausner to speak endlessly with the press and put on a... (full context)
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
...challenge any testimony does not help the judges’ attempt to rein the trial back in. Ben-Gurion explains even before the trial that he ordered Eichmann’s kidnapping in order to expose the... (full context)
The Banality of Evil Theme Icon
Conscience, Authority, and Totalitarianism Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
On the other hand, Ben-Gurion’s campaign does successfully help the Israelis find other Nazis and criminals—not in the Arab world... (full context)
Chapter 15: Judgment, Appeal, and Execution
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
In fact, Arendt wonders how the Israelis did not find him out much sooner. While Ben-Gurion argues that Eichmann was “found out” but not necessarily kidnapped by Israeli agents, clearly this... (full context)
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
...able to sit in judgment on crimes committed against their own people.” Along these lines, Ben-Gurion refused “the protection of an International Court.” (full context)
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
...genocide “an altogether different order is broken and an altogether different community is violated.” But Ben-Gurion lashed out against Israel’s critics, and so the Eichmann trial threw away its opportunity to... (full context)