Survivor's book on Israel becomes French best seller

93-year-old Holocaust survivor Staphane Hessel urges defending "the values of modern democracy," "Jews themselves perpetrating war crimes is intolerable"

Indigene-Vous book 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Indigene-Vous book 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
“The productivist 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....”
Hessel’s life 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 Truffaut.
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 Palestinians.
“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 Jerusalem Post 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 something.”
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 conflict.
“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 society today.
“It is about his image,” Knobel said. “France is looking for a hero who can express his revolt and condemn a lot of things.”