The World, Israel, Judaism and the Jewish Future According to Bernard-Henri Lévy

French intellectual among headliners at this weeks ROI Summit in Jerusalem

Bernard-Henri Lévy at Tel Aviv University, June 2011. Photo by Itzik Edri, Creative Commons.

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

The world – the Jewish world included – has been witnessing a global erosion in humanity’s ability for healthy dialogue, according to Justin Korda, executive director of ROI Community, whose Jerusalem Summit is taking place this week. At the days-long event, Korda said he hopes participants, who range in age from 25 to 40, will practice the kind of healthy debate and dialogue that is today so badly needed.

“The challenges facing the world, Israel and the Jewish people are significant, and our belief is that step one toward overcoming these challenges is to engage with them and to grapple with different perspectives,” said Korda.

To help model healthy dialogue and spark conversation about the need for conversation and open-mindedness, ROI Summit is hosting Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French public intellectual, media personality and author, who has traveled the world seeking out opportunities to dialogue, face-to-face, with people that vehemently disagree with him and his Western and Jewish way of life. Lévy will be speaking to the ROIers on July 6th.

Ahead of his talk, eJewish Philanthropy caught up with Lévy.


“This is indeed a global phenomenon [that] without a doubt has to do with the triumph of social networks and the mimetic rivalry they induce.

“I have plunged myself, and a large part of my soul, into regions of the world which were for the most part hostile to what I was, and in some cases, to the very fact that I was Jewish. Why? It depends. When I was reporting for Le Monde on the forgotten wars that were the subject of ‘War, Evil and the End of History,’ I thought, rightly or wrongly, that if I didn’t do it, no one would do this work in my place.

“When I went to Libya, a large massacre was being prepared, and I was not sorry that it would be said that it was left to a Jew to sound the alarm and be among the first to act.

“And as for the Battle of Mosul, do not forget that Mosul is the modern name of Nineveh, ‘the great city,’ where Jonah, the greatest of the prophets, was instructed to go…”


“I have been attacked by the extreme Left and the extreme Right, because they are the same. Both have the same hatred for liberal thinking and the same mistrust of democracy. And because doubtlessly they both consider me to be an incarnation of this resolute, methodical and never-discouraged struggle for democracy, the Republic and liberal values.

“Since I wrote my book on Daniel Pearl, death threats are there, hanging over my head. There are people who do not like the fact that I conducted this investigation following the traces of this great Jew, the reasons for his assassination and what he was on the way to discovering at the time he was kidnapped and killed. Since that time, 2002, I am one of the Westerners who have probably come closest to the muzzle of the Islamist beast. I went to fight them, to contact what is the worst in the fascist-Islamist movement. So naturally, this has upset the principals involved.

How do I react? Quite simply: by trying to be even stronger.”


“For me, to be Jewish is to go out and meet the Other. It is to look him in the eyes and, in these eyes, to acknowledge the boundlessness of humanity. And when he has no more, to help give him back a face. Judaism is humanism.


“Israel must not be fought, but rather celebrated. I defend Israel because it is the Jewish State. I defend it out of loyalty to the intellectual and political heritage of Theodor Herzl. But my support is even more ardent, as I hold this country to be an exemplary democracy. Not only exemplary “in the region,” but rather exemplary in every way. Exemplary in the sense that all the democracies in the world should, in many respects, model themselves on Israel.

“I am not aware of any intellectual argument that makes it permissible to condemn Israel. I am not talking about disagreements with its government. I am talking about this demonization, this Satanizing of Israel in and of itself, which indeed lies at the heart of so many extreme-Left movements. But pay attention: having said this, there are also people on the Left who support Israel. I am one of them. And fortunately, I am not alone.

“I am well acquainted with the Israeli army. I have reported on wars all over the world. And I have also done so in Israel. I am able to say that Israel has one of the most ethical armies in the world, and that it continues to be totally faithful to the ideal of the ‘purity of arms,’ which lies at the heart of Zionist thought.”


“I want young ROI leaders to learn that for them, there is more to be done than just struggling incessantly against anti-Semitism. The positive battle for the defense, illustration, glorification and celebration of Jewish values is so much more important, fruitful and even joyous.

“I am a proud Jew. I am a Jew of affirmation. And it is this taste of affirmation that I would like to be able to transmit, at least by way of example, to the young people.

“I view the future with optimism. Because I see many young Jews in France, but also in the rest of Europe, in the United States or in Israel, who are responding to this call to Jewish pride and positivity. They work. They study. They often battle with the sacred texts in one hand and secular books of the non-Jewish culture in the other. And that is magnificent! I am not sure that in my youth, Jewish youth was as ardent, audacious and advanced as it is today.”