For most of his career as a French celebrity intellectual (who happens to be Jewish), Bernard-Henri Lévy was convinced that anti-Semitism was in decline. Now he’s decided it’s back, cleverly re-merchandised as anti-Zionism and Holocaust denial. He’s flying to town this week (and staying at the Carlyle, naturellement) to talk about genocide and anti-Semitism as part of the 92nd Street Y’s commemoration of Israel’s 60th birthday. He spoke to Carl Swanson.
What’s your relationship to Israel?
For a long time, for all the Jews of the world and, in particular, for me, Israel was perceived as an asylum and a refuge. Today, the disunity of Israel, the constant attacks on the country, the danger from its most uncompromising enemies, and, thus, the necessity of defending it against any injustice, are such that the relationship has been inverted: It’s the protector that must be protected.
What caused you to turn to explicitly discussing anti-Semitism?
Its return. And a relatively new rhetoric. Anti-Semitism, to pass under the radar, to become again undetectable, to be in a position to operate without being accused of being anti-Semitism, must draw from three sources: anti-Zionism, the denial of the Holocaust, and victim competition. It must articulate the following discourse: “The Jews are a detestable people who, firstly, invented and exaggerated their own martyring”—which is denial of the Holocaust; secondly, “They overshadowed, in doing so, the martyring of other people”—which is victim competition; and, thirdly, “They accomplished this crime because they are obsessed with the defense of an assassin state”—which is anti-Zionism.
In your latest book, you condemn Hugo Chávez and were critical of Nicolas Sarkozy for meeting with him. Barack Obama has promised a similar unconditional visit. Does that worry you?
Yes. Because Chávez is not a democrat. He is, at minimum, a populist dictator. Perhaps a true Fascist—with, what’s more, a connection to Ahmadinejad. I like Obama. I would vote for him if I were American. But an American president cannot shake the hand of a man who practices government anti-Semitism and who advocates the destruction of Israel.
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