Relevance that Continues

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) spent his adult life working as a migrant worker or, most famously, a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront. He was self educated. His classroom was the world he lived in, and the classics his textbooks. He lost his sight after an accident when a child – probably the result of what was then known as hysterical blindness. At age 15 he suddenly regained it. From then on he spent every spare moment either reading or writing. His most famous book, published in 1969, was The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. He was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom shortly before his death.

Hoffer was a keen observer of the human condition and quite a prescient political philosopher. The essence of his theory expounded in The True Believer was that ideology was always subordinate to fanaticism. The fanatic can be a Nazi or a Communist; a fundamentalist Christian or an Islamist. The substance does not matter, only the process. In his study of revolutions, and his intimate knowledge of working class people – he was one of them – he concluded that the so-called downtrodden were never the driving force. Revolutionaries were generally middle- and upper-class drones who were supported by someone else and had too much time on their hands. Sound familiar? They spend their time dreaming up but they considered ideal societies and, through boredom, become true believing agitators. Their disdain for working-class people is greater than that of the aristocracy.

One of Eric Hoffer’s observations is relevant today, given the situation with Israel and the Middle East. In 1968, in the wake of the war in which Israel managed to defeat the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and take over the entire city of Jerusalem as well as what is known as the West Bank, Hoffer had this to say:

The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it. Turkey drove out a million Greeks and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese—and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.

Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious, it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.

Other nations, when they are defeated, survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June [1967], he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews

* * *


The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources.

Yet at this moment, Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us.

Current criticism of Israel over its defense in the face of Hamas’s rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip is misplaced. The Israelis did not start this conflict; they have a right to defend themselves, and as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, observed, how long would any other country tolerate a hostile power indiscriminately firing high explosive missiles into its cities and towns? Israel’s enemies, more than a few who are in the United States, decry that nation’s “disproportionate response. “Eric Hoffer would probably maintain that no response to defend against somebody who has vowed to kill you, and is in the process of trying to carry out that vow, could possibly be “disproportionate.”

As for the Hamas leadership hiding behind civilians in Gaza, especially children, an observation by another Israeli leader, Prime Minister Golda Meier, comes to mind. “We’ll never have peace until the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

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