Bernard-Henri Lévy, a friend to Israel

The following is an excerpt from the brilliant new take-down of famed French “philosopher” Bernard Henri-Lévy by Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte. Titled The Impostor: BHL in Wonderland, the book is part of the recently inaugurated Verso Counterblasts series. The excerpt was published at Al Jazeera.

On June 5, 2011, nearly three months into the war against the Gaddafi regime, the Libyan rebel forces issued a corrective communiqué referring to Bernard-Henri Lévy. It said that the National Transitional Council (NTC), the political body representing the insurgents fighting the Tripoli regime, “vehemently rejects what has been reported in some media as Mr Bernard Lévy’s comments on the future relationship between Libya and the Israelis”. The communiqué continued: “The NTC is surprised by Mr Lévy’s comments,” and – an intriguing detail – “Mr Lévy was received as a special envoy from the president of France, and relations with Israel were never discussed.”

What was going on? The event had passed unnoticed at first, but three days earlier, Agence France Presse (AFP) had come up with a considerable scoop if turned out to be authentic. A real breakthrough in the history of relations between Israel and the Arab countries: the NTC was apparently prepared to recognise the state of Israel and maintain “normal relations” with it. That was the “verbal message” that Bernard-Henri Lévy had come to deliver to the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, on behalf of the Libyan Council.

The future regime “will be a moderate and anti-terrorist regime, concerned with both justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel”. At least, that is what the French writer told the press agency. The Israeli head of government’s services limited themselves to confirming the meeting, without saying anything on its content.

But the diplomatic thunderclap fell flat. In reality it had been an enormous faux-pas by the French writer. The NTC did not beat about the bush. “Libya is a member of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference,” the communiqué continued.

“These two organisations have a very solid and clear position on the Palestinian question. With this in mind, Libya firmly commits to the already firm position taken by the Arab world on the Palestinian question, and will support the aspirations of the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable rights and their desire to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Radically opposed to Muammar Gaddafi the insurgents might be, but they were not ready to mark their differences with him by entering into official relations with Tel Aviv.

“As I’m Jewish, and a friend of Israel…” Even on Al Jazeera, where he introduced himself with those words in March 2011, Bernard-Henri Lévy has never hidden his support for the Israeli state. It is a constant in his public utterances, whether made in France, the US or Israel.

“He’s one of the great defenders of Israel, and he does it in fine, resonant language and with great physical courage, and I believe that that is how he is perceived here,” we were told from Jerusalem by Claude Sitbon, a sociologist and historian who knows the Israeli francophone community well.

The writer often goes there to give talks. He has an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University and another from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in addition to the Scopus Prize awarded by the French community of the latter establishment.

A zealous spokesman

His rare social dexterity – unique for a French intellectual – gave him access to the top ranks of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF, also known by the Hebrew acronym, Tzahal), which found in Bernard-Henri Lévy one of their most zealous spokesmen. Indeed it is not unreasonable to suggest that over the years a close collaboration has been established between the writer and the IDF staff.

In January 2009, aiming to report on the Tzahal offensive in the Gaza Strip, he travelled “embedded … with an elite unit”, as he put it in an article published on three continents. So he describes entering after dark, accompanied by a major and four reservists, the Abasan al-Jadida district “in the suburbs of Gaza City”, and rejoicing not to find the sort of wholesale destruction visited on the city of Grozny, in Chechnya, or some parts of Sarajevo. The implicit message was that Israeli shelling had not been as destructive as claimed.

In fact, however – according to Le Monde’s Israel correspondent Benjamin Barthe – he was not in the outskirts of the Gaza capital at all, but in “a big village, more than 20 kilometres south of Gaza”. Contrary to what Lévy seems to believe, Abasan al-Jadida is not a suburb of Gaza City.

Click here to continue reading at Al Jazeera.

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