A political treatise written by a 93-year-old author lambasting the ills of
Western society, the French government and Israel has become a runaway
best-seller in France this holiday season, selling over 600,000 copies in less
than three months.
The unlikely commercial success of Indignezvous! (Cry
Out!), a 30-page pamphlet penned by former French diplomat and Holocaust
survivor Stéphane Hessel urging citizens to defend “the values of modern
democracy,” has caught many by surprise.
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In his essay, which sells for
three euros, Hessel rebukes the “insolent and selfish” power of money and calls
on people to get in touch with their social values.
obsession of the West has plunged the world into a crisis which can only be
resolved by a radical shift away from the ‘ever more,’ in the world of finance
but also in science and technology,” Hessel writes. “It is high time that
ethics, justice and a sustainable balance prevailed....”
story is a large part of the success of his book. He was born in Berlin in 1917
to a Protestant mother and a Jewish father. They immigrated to France when he
was a child.
His liberal-minded mother and father are said to have served
as the real life inspiration for the novel Jules et Jim
about an ill-fated love
triangle that was later made into a cinema classic directed by François
During World War II, Hessel fled to London and joined the Free
French Forces of Charles de Gaulle. In 1944, he was sent to France on a mission
for the resistance. He was caught by the Nazis and put in Buchenwald, where he
managed to escape near-certain death several times.
After the war he
embarked on a long career as a diplomat involved in human rights policies and
providing aid to Africa.
Hessel is a staunch critic of Israel. In recent
years he has visited the Gaza Strip, where he met with Hamas leaders and called
for a boycott of the Jewish state. In his best-seller the retired diplomat
devotes a page to accusing Israel of committing war crimes against
“Jews themselves perpetrating war crimes is intolerable,”
Hessel writes. “Alas, the past offers few examples of people learning lessons
from their own history.”
French Jewish groups have often condemned Hessel
for his “fixation” on Israel.
“We think the circumstances surrounding the
publication of this book are very abnormal,” Marc Knobel, a researcher on
anti-Semitism at CRIF, the French Jewry umbrella organization, told The
on Monday. “It’s a sort of a cult around Hessel, an image of pure
humanity of a man at the end of life who wants to proclaim
Knobel said Hessel has ignored Islamic terrorism and
Palestinian attacks on Israelis, saying some were justified because of Israel’s
occupation of the West Bank.
“I would like to see him condemn the attacks
in Baghdad and Cairo,” Knobel said, referring to recent attacks on Christians in
Iraq and Egypt that left dozens dead.
Yaron Gamburg, the spokesman of the
Israeli Embassy in Paris, said Hessel was an example of those who use their
right to free speech to spread falsehoods about the Israeli- Palestinian
“Hessel’s book is certainly in a group with those who use that
right in the most extreme way,” Gamburg said. “It is a literary fad which will
have no affect on the real world, a pseudo-intellectual phenomenon whose facts
have not been verified. Even Le Monde
has criticized him for not condemning
violence in his book.”
Knobel said that in his opinion, the book’s
popularity had little to do with Israel and more to do with the public
perception of Hessel in France and the general sense of malaise gripping French
“It is about his image,” Knobel said. “France is looking
for a hero who can express his revolt and condemn a lot of things.”