Bernard_Henri_LevyPhilosopher-king of the French Jews, alleged example of the height of male beauty, and sometimes “expert” on the United States, Bernard-Henri Lévy is, at this very moment, my hero, who I want to be when I grow up, and the best thing to come out of France since unpasturized goat cheese.

In both his New York Times article on the war in Israel and Lebanon, and his Q & A about the article, he proves that he, like 19th century French-Jewish intellectual and early Zionist Bernard Lazare, is willing to speak the truth, state the obvious, when it comes to anti-Semitism. Lévy considers France still not “unlivable” for the Jews, pointing out that, while there is anti-Semitism in that country, it’s not all that different from how things are in the United States. Agreed. Below are some of the questions and answers, which reveal that BHL is, well, very, very awesome.

Q. 1. Why do you only paint your story from the point of view of Israelis? Why do you assume that Hezbollah is an organization that is not wanted by the people of Lebanon, if they provide services, have elected representatives, and are the only ones able to defend their country?
— Cornelius Diamond, La Jolla, Calif.

A. Three questions in one, dear Cornelius. First, why the Israeli viewpoint? Because only the other viewpoint is seen and I do not like conformism, much less injustice. In other words, it’s okay to criticize Israel and debate the strategy adopted by the military command, which is not necessarily the right one. But-a little equity, please — let one begin by listening to what Israelis say and looking at what they are enduring: that’s what I did in this reporting. Next: Isn’t Hezbollah “wanted by the people of Lebanon”? Don’t they “provide services” and “have elected representatives”? Yes, of course, there is no dispute about this, but since when would that be contradictory with the fact of being totalitarians and even perfect fascists? Wasn’t Hitler — even though it’s not comparable — democratically elected? Didn’t Mussolini provide the Italian people every possible service? Indeed, isn’t that in a general way the precise definition of fascist populism? Things get complicated with your third question and the idea that the people of Hezbollah are “the only ones able to defend their country.” I hope you are joking! For in truth Hezbollah has been bleeding Lebanon and has literally taken it hostage and taken its own people hostage, turning them into human shields with mind-boggling cynicism — a bizarre way to “defend” a country.

Q. 2. Why do you say “Inevitable War”? It is inevitable and endless because of your attitude. How do you feel about committing Israel to endless war?
— Mark Ravitz, Santa Barbara, Calif.

A. I do not say “endless.” I say “inevitable,” which does not at all mean the same thing as “endless.” And I say “inevitable” for the simple reason that Hezbollah, and thus Iran, have decided on it. The arsenal on the Israeli border, the bunkers, tunnels and missile launchers, this entire offensive apparatus predicated on, as clearly proclaimed by Iran, the will to “wipe Israel off the map” means precisely that: one day or another, war – a war that Israel did no more than anticipate, for it knew that in a year or two such a war would be yet more difficult, yet more costly in lives, and yet more uncertain for an Israel threatened in its very existence. Forgive me for insisting on “threatened in its very existence,” but that is what is at issue. And herein lies the difference between this war and a war linked to the Palestinian question. The latter would have the practical goals of war, and were Israel to come to some kind of agreement with its adversaries on the settlement of the Palestinian question, war would be avoided. Hezbollah’s war, on the other hand, is a war of a new kind, which no longer has any real tie to the Palestinian question or any concrete question whatsoever, and on that account is a war that I wish to say is non-negotiable.

Q. 6. Do you, as an intellectual in France, feel that you are afforded more credibility in speaking out and writing in support and understanding of Israel than other Jews who seem rather too intimidated by French anti-Semitism to speak out and be visible in French society?
— Deidre Waxman, Newton, Mass.

A. I don’t even understand what you are saying! For me, anti-Semitism is a form of terrorism and the very idea of letting myself be intimidated by any terrorism whatsoever completly horrifies me. Jewish or non-Jewish, intellectuals must speak out. Jewish or non-Jewish, they have a duty to truth. And, conversely, to tell them-or tell oneself-“A Jew has, because a Jew, a duty to reticence” would be to give into anti-Semitic terrorism. Not my style. I want to add that my defense of Israel is not so closely tied as you perhaps think to the fact that I am Jewish. There is an element of that, of course. But it is certainly not the essential. I defend Israel because I defend democracy. I defend Israel because I have a horror of all fascisms. I defend the Israelis in this war as in the past I have defended other peoples who have nothing to do with Judaism. Bosnia, for example. The Bosnian Muslims whom I defended, I believe, with no less ardor or passion.

Q. 9. I’d be interested in your view on a couple of issues: The confusion of the American/Israeli identities in France in light of rising anti-semitism, the interchangeable use of “Jew” and “Israeli” in the French media, the difference between the words “colon” in French and “settler” in English, and lastly your views on the difference between the representation of this “new” conflict in the French European and American medias.
— Don Device, Paris, France

A. As with the media, I do not want to globalize. Contrary to the impression sometimes given by the American press, neither public opinion nor the political class in France is globally anti-Semitic. There are some limits that are being breached, to be sure. And there is a certain loosening of speech that one didn’t feel ten or twenty years ago. It can even be said that we are witnessing in France as elsewhere the construction of a new anti-Semitic machinery based on the three pillars of anti-Zionism, historical revisionism, and the obsessive competition over victim status. But it cannot be said that France has for all that become a country unlivable for Jews. It cannot be said that the country’s political institutions have yielded in the face of pressure. Quite the contrary. And I would even add that this mechanism I am speaking of, this new machinery, this way of saying that Jews are guilty of (1) supporting the “criminal State” of Israel, (2) exaggerating the degree of their suffering through an alleged “religion of the Shoah,” and (3) blocking, through their own tears and grief, the attention that the tears and grief of other peoples deserve-all this, I want to stress, you find in the United States at least as much as in France. That’s right!

Sounds right to me. While it’s debatable whether the United States overall or France overall is better for the Jews (New York’s probably friendlier than Paris, but that’s the case for people of all faiths and ethnicities), living outside of Israel, Jews inevitably run into problems which we cannot, as full and enthusiastic citizens of our various nations, fight against to the full extent possible. When Jewish existence is threatened in the context of Israel, the IDF courageously fights back. When Jewish existence is threatened elsewhere, too many Jews laugh nervously about the embarassingly unpopular people to which they, through no fault of their own, belong. Israel’s existence will ultimately make it possible for Jews to live elsewhere and feel comfortably Jewish and some other national identity, but as long as Israel’s existence is considered by many worldwide to be contigent on the country behaving ten gazillion times better than any country in its situation possibly could, that’s a long way off.

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  • Bernard-Henri Lévy is a breath of fresh air. In this article he demonstrates precision and articulateness that is woefully lacking in most media, regardless of political orientation. This post ought to be required reading for anyone concerned with, well, everything. I stand in awe. Great post Phoebe!

  • Even lefty French intellectuals can get mugged by reality. Welcome to the crowd, BHL.

    Phoebe, Paris may be as safe for Jews as New York– but your car has a much better chance of not being set afire here in the Great Simulacrum..

  • bhl is not a philosopher because he hasn’t his own truth thought, he is rather a great but very great editorialist and speaker. In france he s very powerfull, he has a network in all domain like you can’t imagine even in dreaming (rumors say that one day a journalist of ELLE was fired because of a bad paper on him…)

    billionaire, sexy of course

    he’s “un juif de cour”

    most of french jews like him

    the others (goy and especially muslims)find him arrogant, pretentious, too jewish in his political views, etc.

    he is not involved in the jewish community but jews know they can count on him for the essential

    Alain finkielkraut is our real french jewish favorite philosopher

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