French Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy speaking at Bar-Ilan University.
(photo credit: CHEN DAMARI)
Israelis who are have embraced Donald Trump as president “should be very careful,” prominent French-Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy told The Jerusalem Post Monday during an interview at Bar-Ilan University, which was due to award him with an honorary doctorate on Tuesday evening.
Asked whether he believes that the friendship between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be positive for Israel in the long-term, Lévy was quick to respond with a decisive “no.”
Talking to the Post
at the university’s Brain Research Center – where he would later deliver a lecture about his latest book – Levy was wearing his trademark black suit and a partially unbuttoned white shirt. His expressive eyebrows often answered the questions before his words.
While he explained his view that Israel is in no position to refuse the friendship of other countries, he opined that “to have Trump as a friend is not a source of happiness.”
“He has no real love for Israel because he does not know Israel. He does not know the Jewish history, he refuses to condemn antisemitism – so what is the value of this friendship?” he asked. In February, Trump issued his first public condemnation of antisemitism, after being criticized for remaining silent in the face of an uptick of anti-Jewish incidents across the country.
Many figures on the Right of Israel’s political spectrum celebrated Trump’s election, particularly following Netanyahu’s strained relationship with former US president Barack Obama.
“These rightist people should be aware that it can change. Friendship without love or love without roots can always turn into its contrary. This is the story of the Jewish people. Beware of philo-semitism when it has not solid ground,” he added.
While Levy was praised “for his passionate defense of Israel, outspoken courage and humanity in the face of injustice and originality of philosophical thought” at Monday’s Bar-Ilan University event, he is a controversial character at home and abroad.
Just last week he was pied in the face in Belgrade by leftist activists while he was promoting his new film Peshmerga, about the Kurdish battle against Islamic State.
Levy is known for his criticism of the Serbian regime during the 1990s Yugoslav Wars.
Levy is also known – for better or for worse – for his role in pushing for French intervention in the first Libyan Civil War in 2011.
The ongoing civil war in Syria is “the remorse of my life,” he said.
“The fact of not having been able to convince [people] that what is happening in Syria is disgusting, a shame and that we are all to blame is the failure of my life,” he told the Post
, noting that he tried to convince public opinion as well as decision makers in France and the US of the need to intervene.
“Every day it is more difficult to enforce because the democratic forces in Syria are shrinking every day” Levy said. “Today, if the world decided to topple [Syrian President] Bashar Assad, it is true that now we don’t have an alternative solution – but it was not true three years ago. Before ISIS appeared... there was a solution. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: We said that there would be no solution after toppling Assad so much that in the end it became true.”
In his native France, Levy is more satisfied with recent political developments, and is happy about the victory of the country’s new president, Emmanuel Macron. He sees Macron’s win as the potential beginning of a counter-trend in Europe to the rise of populism.
“We might have reached the climax of it and be on the way back, and Macron could mean the acceleration of the return process,” he reflected. “Populism always relies on lies and stupidity and on simplistic solutions... this doesn’t work forever.”
Thousands of France’s Jewish citizens have immigrated to Israel in recent years, some citing antisemitism as the motive.
But Levy believes antisemitism in the country is “contained” and thinks it is a mistake to run from it.
“I think there is a real antisemitism coming from the Right and the Left, but I don’t think it is overwhelming. I don’t think it is time to leave France – it’s time to battle against antisemitism, not to leave the battlefield,” he stressed.
“Those who quit France because of Zionism do the right thing. If they want to contribute to building Israel, it is a beautiful act. But if they leave because they believe it is impossible for Jews to live in France, I think they are not right.”
Emphasizing the deep-rooted presence of Jews in France, Levy cited former French prime minister Manuel Valls: “France without Jews would not be France.”