Bernard-Henri Levy, philosopher for hire

There is a popular belief that a philosopher’s aim is to seek universal truth in a world of competing narratives. As early as the time of Socrates, Western culture viewed the figure of the Sophist, a “philosopher for hire,” as contrary to that of the genuine philosopher: While the latter searches for the truth, the former uses his talents to promote interest groups. When Nietzsche taught us that behind every philosophy is a philosopher with his own particularity, he undermined the concept of universal truth and assigned a different purpose to philosophy. After that, many philosophers could only try to reconstruct and deconstruct the shards of truth that remained.

A number of genuine philosophers tried to rehabilitate the term “universal truth” from the debris, but at the same time, mass culture invented the philosopher of mass communications. This new model cynically exploits the public’s trust in the “philosopher” – and its belief that that figure seeks truth – in order to serve the centers of power.

In the same way that the Israel Defense Forces conducted itself when it had the philosopher Asa Kasher create his immoral “ethical code,” thus Nicolas Sarkozy and the Ehud Olmert government allowed Bernard-Henri Levy to stamp as “kosher” some of the most unethical codes in Western liberalism.

Last May, Levy published an article in defense of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Haaretz Hebrew Edition (it appeared in English in The Huffington Post ). The article contained a repetition of the words “I am angry,” along the lines of “J’accuse.” Here is my own “I am angry”:

I accept the Bernard-Henri Levy who figuratively marched in solidarity with the armed rebels in order to free the Libyan people from the tyrannical rule of Muammar Gadhafi. But I am angry that he chose to march with the Israeli army of occupation when it invaded Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. I’m angry that, instead of joining the flotilla to Gaza, he accosted the unarmed activists who sailed as a solidarity coalition to free the Palestinians from the rule of the violent and prolonged occupation.

I applaud the Bernard-Henri Levy who, in his writings, condemned the dictatorship in Tehran, but I’m angry that he denies the fact that Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who was shot to death there by the dictatorship in 2009, and Bassem Abu Rahmeh, who was shot to death by Israeli soldiers in Bil’in that same year, are both victims of a similar oppression.

I applaud the Bernard-Henri Levy who eloquently described the face of Gilad Shalit – his glance, his fragility and humanity – as it appears in the heartbreaking video from captivity, but I’m angry that, at the same time, he erased the faces of thousands of Palestinian prisoners who have been humiliated for decades in the prisons of the occupation.

I agree with the way in which Bernard-Henri Levy, in an attempt to help his friend Strauss-Kahn, attacked the legal system and media in the United States, claiming that they embody a kind of cannibalism that sacrifices the individual on behalf of slogans and stereotypes of justice. But I’m angry about his thunderous silence when, in an odd, rapid judicial procedure, his friend – a man whose trustworthiness is no less in doubt than that of the woman who accused him – was released without restrictions.

Furthermore, I’m angry that he invented a false theory about the priority given to the victim (the migrant, the black, the woman ) in the American system – merely to defend his aggressive compatriot. In that way, he collaborated in wiping out the daily injustices done by the American capitalist judicial system to millions of poor, blacks and migrants who are jailed or deported from the country.

I’m angry that, on behalf of a friend, Levy took it upon himself to undermine the credibility of another woman, Tristane Banon, who filed a criminal complaint against Strauss-Kahn for alleged attempted rape and who courageously dared to go to the media. In this way, he set the struggle for rape victims’ rights back a full generation.

These are the reasons why, in the eyes of many people, Bernard-Henri Levy is perceived not as a philosopher who fights for universal truth, nor as a journalist who seeks justice, but rather as a Jewish soldier in the European foreign legion. He is the servant of two masters who are actually one and the same: the colonial liberal ideology and the Zionist ideology.

Therefore, I call on Bernard-Henri Levy: Kindly be a human being always and everywhere. March with us in September to free Palestine from the occupation and Israel from Zionism. I am not, heaven forbid, asking Sarkozy to send his forces to Israel as he did to fight Gadhafi in Libya; I’m merely proposing that the West stop selling arms to the Israeli army, and that Israel’s soldiers refrain from using their weapons when we march to bring down the walls of apartheid.

The Middle East is looking for a new space where there is freedom for all. Bernard-Henri Levy, you said that dictatorships do not remain forever. Therefore, we too shall not stop until, between the Jordan River and the sea, there is justice and equality for every human being.

This article originally appeared in Haaretz. Udi Aloni is a filmmaker and writer and his book What Does a Jew Want? will be published later this month by Columbia University Press.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 33 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. American says:

    Bernard-Henri Levy is nor more an intellectual or philosopher than Elliot Abrams or Doug Feith are, he’s just another little pretender to intellect.

    The words of Edward Said:

    Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.

    For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual. ‘

  2. Cliff says:

    Should we be congratulating people on condemning actions that are deserving of condemnation?

    Orwell said that in times of universal deceit, speaking the truth can be revolutionary.

    Condemning the crimes of the Iranian State is easy. And when I say easy, I do not mean to imply that it is not any less valid than the crimes of Hamas. However, it takes no courage for a Westerner to condemn Iranian crimes.

    If you are an Iranian intellectual, living in Iran – and outspoken against the government – that is another issue.

    We can parse this to an extent. I believe we should support dissidents in these failed States.

    That Levy ‘condemns’ Iran though, is not on the same level as someone ‘mainstream’ condemning Israel, in the SAME sense (superficially, but valid nonetheless) as an Iranian condemning his failed State, while living there (and thus facing harassment, torture and even death) is obviously more courageous.

    Put these declarations in context and check out the response from our political culture. He is not going against the grain and it’s keeping with his own political parameters for what is ‘acceptable’ to talk about.

  3. Taxi says:

    There are bums sitting on benches in Venice Beach that philosophize more rigorously than Bernard-Henri Levy.

    • Keith says:

      TAXI- I agree. Udi Aloni seems to be overly deferential to someone more appropriately described as a buffoon than an intellectual. Recently, Tariq Ali was part of a mock tribunal charging BHL with crimes against the intellect. And don’t get me started about BHL’s role with the Libyan “rebels.”

      • Walid says:

        “And don’t get me started about BHL’s role with the Libyan “rebels.”

        Why not, everyone should get started with the scumbag for what he did to Libya, the thousands he got killed and the country that was destroyed for the sake of imperialism and Zionism.

        I’ll have no part of Udi’s adulation of this vermine or of his plea for him to shed his Zionism and support the Palestinians’ UN move. The farthest away he stays from Palestinians, the better off they’ll be.

        One of his French websites link to bernard-henri-levy.com calls itself “BHL: l’art de la philosophie ne vaut que s’il est un art de la guerre” says everything about the man. Loosely translated, it means “the art of philosophy isn’t worthwhile unless it’s an art of war”. We have already discussed here how as soon as he had finished screwing up things for Libya, he held a gathering of Zionists and Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood (where’s Dana to hear this?) and A-H Khadam that organized and supervised the Hama massacre in 82, to start the same BS campaign on Syria this July. Yoshie Furuhashi summed it up with links :

        “Bernard-Henri Lévy’s “SOS Syrie” Conference: Zionists, Muslim Brothers, and Other Leaders of “Change in Syria”

        Bernard-Henri Lévy, well known for his devotion to humanitarian military interventions, organized a conference to “stop the massacre” in Syria, “SOS Syrie,” in Paris on the fourth of July. There is no doubt that BHL is eager to replicate his Libyan success in Syria. Given the clear Russian opposition to any military intervention in Syria, however, his goal, at this stage in the game, is to manufacture the Western public’s support for a UN Security Council referral of the Syrian leadership to the International Criminal Court and for yet more economic sanctions against the country.

        The call for the conference, issued through BHL’s journal La Règle du Jeu, was joined by France-Syrie Démocratie and “Change in Syria for Democracy,” the latter being a group that had emerged from the Syrian opposition conference held in Antalya, Turkey on 31 May-2 June 2011. On the “Change in Syria” Web site, posters for SOS Syrie are prominently displayed.

        On the French side, SOS Syrie featured such participants as Bernard Kouchner, André Glucksman, Axel Poniatowski (a member of the Union for a Popular Movement and the president of the foreign affairs commission of the French National Assembly), and Frédéric Encel, “who cut his teeth in the Betar youth organization of Likud.” As if that is not enough, former Knesset member Alex Goldfarb was also included.

        What Syrians would want to join hands with the who’s who of French Zionism and imperialism? Most of the prominent Syrian invitees named in the conference advertisements are the leaders of the aforementioned organizations that backed BHL’s call. According to As-Safir’s Paris correspondent Mohammad Ballout, among the invitees were many of the Executive Council of “Change in Syria”: Amr Al-Azm, Ahed al-Hendi, Abdel Ilah Milhem (a leader of the Anza tribe), Ammar al-Qurabi (chairman of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria), Sondos Sulaiman (of Al Hadatha Party). Lama Atassi, the president of France-Syrie Démocratie as well as a participant in the Antalya conference, took credit for linking up the Antalya opposition with BHL in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur.

        What happened at the conference itself, where “the obscure faces of the Antalya opposition and of the Muslim Brotherhood” were seen among about 200 like-minded friends of BHL who filled the very much bobo Saint-Germain-des-Prés cinema?

        According to La Règle du Jeu itself, Goldfarb, of all people, acted as “spokesman, in Paris, of Change in Syria for Democracy.”

        There was also Ashraf al-Moqdad, a member of the “National Salvation Front in Syria” led by Abdul Halim Khaddam. Moqdad, says As-Safir, bragged that, once “democracy” comes to Syria, “Hezbollah, ‘Iranian agents,’ and Palestinians” will be made to “pay the price.” The As-Safir reporter says Moqdad went on to threaten him as well.

        Radwan Badini and Muhammad Karkouti, both members of the “Change in Syria” Executive Council, also spoke, as did Atassi. A post-conference report in BHL’s journal claims that Qurabi was there, too, but time ran out and he couldn’t give his speech. (It curiously has nothing to say about the rest of the initial invitees.)

        Perhaps the most intriguing participant in SOS Syrie was Mulham al-Droubi, who is in charge of international relations of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as well as a member of the “Change in Syria” Executive Council. As the Muslim Brotherhood came out in favor of “normalization” with Israel without an end to the Israeli occupation and backed the monarchy in Bahrain and the rest of the Gulf Arab states, the United States and the European Union have made their support for the Muslim Brotherhood public, to the delight of the Brothers. Droubi’s presence there is yet another sign of the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

        Unlike in the case of Libya, though, the path of the Syrian exiles who team up with BHL and his ilk may be a lonely one. As-Safir reports that Farouk Mardam-Bey, Burhan Ghalioun, and Subhi Hadidi issued a joint statement against BHL and his collaborators, telling them to “spare the Syrian people the solidarity that they don’t want.” Haytham Manna, spokesman for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, is quoted by As-Safir as condemning SOS Syrie thus: “It’s a conspiracy against young people, who have upheld not only the cause of freedom but also that of the liberation of Palestine, waving the flags of Palestine and Syria at the same time.” The conference itself couldn’t get going without first escorting out one Arab man and one Arab woman who stood up and denounced it, and outside the cinema there was a loud protest of pro-government Syrians heckling the conference-goers, calling them “fascists, Zionists, terrorists.”

        The currents of the Syrian opposition represented at SOS Syrie — and others like them (see, for instance, the transcript of a Syrian opposition conference “Envisioning Syria’s Political Future — Obstacles and Options,” especially “National Initiative for Change” Communications Director Ausama Monajed’s demand for an ICC referral and more economic sanctions) — won’t be a threat to Syria and its legitimate homegrown opposition . . . if leftists in the West and Turkey see to it that there will be no further Western or Turkish intervention in the country. However, SOS Racisme President Dominique Sopo spoke at the conference, and Martine Aubry, Bertrand Delanoë, François Hollande, and so on sent messages of support to it. Such are among the ominous signs that the center left in the West is ready to step onto yet another slippery slope.

        Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.
        link to mrzine.monthlyreview.org

        • Keith says:

          WALID- Lordy, lordy, BHL teaming up with fellow humanitarian advocate of mass murder Bernard Kouchner? An old friend from the Ashkenazi propaganda network that helped sell the imperial project of dismembering Yugoslavia and massively bombing Serbia to save lives? The folks that showed empire that liberal Zionists could deliver the goods much more effectively than the neocons, Likud, and Republicans? That helped set the stage from turning NATO from a bogus defensive alliance into a bona fide imperial out of area strike force? Who is safe when guys like this advocate for an imperial humanitarian killing binge? And who can doubt the extent of Israeli and Zionist involvement in this whole sordid business. Thanks for all of the additional detail which I was mostly unaware of.

  4. Dex says:

    I live in Paris; Bernard Henri Levy is not taken very seriously in this country…

    • Antidote says:

      That’s a load off. Thanks for the good news

    • Walid says:

      “I live in Paris; Bernard Henri Levy is not taken very seriously in this country…:

      Surely true since they are more into discussing the type of gel he uses on his hair and his unbuttoned shirts than his inexistent philosophy, but he was good enough to be used by Sarkozy in having brought the fundamentalist insurgents to Paris to meet with him and Clinton to receive the pallium of legitimacy and to rush back to Benghazi to start screaming the lie that Gaddafi’s jets were about to bomb the city loud enough to have caused the launch the first NATO air strikes.

      He appears as a bouffon, but he’s a very dangerous one and a very ardent campaigner for Zionism.

    • No one in France calls Jean-Paul Sartre JPS or Jean-François Lyotard JFL. Only Brigitte Bardot is B.B… BHL is in the latter league because he was more noticed for his “cleavage” than for his “pensées”..

      • Walid says:

        TGIA, it was fun to see him snooker himself by quoting as an expert authority on Kant, a fictional character created by the satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, that you surely know. In February 2010, As’ad wrote a short summary on this caricature of a man.

        “… ” Mr Lévy, who in France goes simply by his initials BHL, has been doing the media rounds to promote his new work, On War in Philosophy. In his book, which has received lavish praise from some quarters, the open-shirted Mr Lévy lays into the philosopher Immanuel Kant as being unhinged and a “fake”. To support his claims, he cites a certain Jean-Baptiste Botul, whom he describes as a post-War authority on Kant. But the chorus of approval turned to laughter after a journalist from Le Nouvel Observateur pointed out that Mr Botul does not exist: he is a fictional character created in by a contemporary satirical journalist, Frédéric Pagès. Alarm bells should have rung given that Mr Pagès, a journalist with Le Canard Enchaîneé, a satirical weekly, has penned one book under the Botul pseudonym entitled The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant. He has even given rise to a school of philosophical thought called Botulism – a play on words with the lethal disease – and has created a theory of “La Metaphysique du Mou” the Metaphysics of the Flabby. But Mr Lévy missed the joke, citing Mr Botul from a “series of lectures to the neo-Kantians of Paraguay” he supposedly gave after the war, in which he said that “their hero was an abstract fake, a pure spirit of pure appearance”. Aude Lancelin, the Nouvel Obs journalist who spotted the blunder, said it was tantamount to “a nuclear gaffe that raises questions on the Lévy method”.”

        • Walid says:

          For more details on L’affaire Botul; from le Nouvel Observateur that made the discovery:

          BHL en flagrant délire: l’affaire Botul
          08-02-10 à 10:54

          Ce devait être le grand retour philosophique de Bernard-Henri Lévy. Patatras ! L’opération semble compromise par une énorme bourde contenue dans « De la guerre en philosophie », livre à paraître le 10 février.

          full article on the BHL’s screw-up:

          link to bibliobs.nouvelobs.com

        • Yes, Walid. L’affaire Botul”. BHL’s Berezina, en quelque sorte..

      • lysias says:

        And Strauss-Kahn is DSK.

    • lysias says:

      Doesn’t Sarkozy take Lévy seriously? Isn’t that supposedly why Sarkozy decided to intervene in Libya?

  5. Elisabeth says:

    Bernard Henri-Levy is a joke. See: link to timesonline.co.uk

    Even J.K. Rowling gives him an appearance as a long-winded magician-philosopher named Bertrand de Pensées-Profondes. (Author of “A Study into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintegration of Essence and Matter.”)

  6. RE: “I call on Bernard-Henri Levy: …March with us in September to free Palestine from the occupation and Israel from Zionism.” ~ Udi Aloni

    MY COMMENT: Fat chance of that!!! But it’s a nice try, anyway.

    P.S. I added several of Udi Aloni’s very interesting looking films to my Netflix queue.
    Forgiveness, (2006) NR – link to movies.netflix.com
    Kashmir: Journey to Freedom, (2008) NR – link to movies.netflix.com

    P.P.S. LISTEN TO “MAD AS HELL IN AMERICA” WITH ADAM KLUGMAN ON AM 620 KPOJ (PORTLAND, OR), SATURDAYS FROM 3:00-6:00 PM [6:00-9:00 PM ES(D)T]
    MAD AS HELL IN AMERICA (archived podcasts) – link to madashellinamerica.com

  7. kalithea says:

    “Therefore, I call on Bernard-Henri Levy: Kindly be a human being always and everywhere. March with us in September to free Palestine from the occupation and Israel from Zionism.”

    Is this a joke? BHL IS a Zionist. Why would anyone give this pompous ass and pseudo-intellectual with the unbuttoned super-white over-starched shirt and lasered chest the time of day and waste two sentences on his behalf? The man is an unrepentant hypocrite with a double standard on who deserves his sympathy; definitely never the Palestinians considering the trash he wrote during Cast Lead.

    His writing is the epitome of mind-numbing conceit buried under a landfill of long-windedness.

  8. Brewer says:

    “Bernard-H­enri Levy is known to weigh in on weighty internatio­nal issues. But when the controvers­ial French philosophe­r-writer took it upon himself to mediate a détente between Libya and Israel, he apparently went too far. ”

    link to france24.com

    • Walid says:

      Brewer, the link to france 24 appear to have died unless I’m the only one that can’t access it. I tried 20 different other sites that had linked to the same article and had the same “page cannot be found problem” pop on me.

      What are the details of is “blunder” in trying to be a match-maker between the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and the Israelis? From the bits and pieces I picked up here and there of his 90-minute meeting with Netanyahu in his capacity of official Sarkozy envoy to Israel, he somehow overshot the mark. What happened?

      • tree says:

        Verbatim from france24:

        Bernard-Henri Levy blunders on Israeli-Libyan ‘mission’

        Bernard-Henri Levy is known to weigh in on weighty international issues. But when the controversial French philosopher-writer took it upon himself to mediate a détente between Libya and Israel, he apparently went too far. By Leela JACINTO (text)

        Bernard-Henri Levy, France’s arguably most flamboyant, unbuttoned, unplugged public intellectual seems to have talked his way into a controversy – again.

        The French philosopher-writer commonly known as BHL is no stranger to the faux pas – one particularly embarrassing gaffe involved him citing a blatantly fake philosopher.

        This time though, the flap revolves around the delicate business of Arab-Israeli relations. But curiously for a man whose exploits are frequently – some would say too frequently – under the spotlight, the latest controversy appears to have slipped under domestic and international radars.

        The first salvo in the latest controversy was fired earlier this month in Jerusalem, where Levy had a 90-minute meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

        During the meeting, Levy relayed a verbal message from Libya’s opposition leaders that the National Transitional Council (NTC) would seek diplomatic ties between Libya and Israel if it came to power. At least that’s what BHL said he said.

        In an interview with the AFP, Levy said he told Netanyahu that, “the future [Libyan] regime will maintain normal relations with other democratic countries, including Israel,” before going on to add that, “the main point was that the future Libyan regime would be moderate and anti-terrorist and will be concerned with justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel.”

        While Netanyahu’s office confirmed the meeting with the French writer-philosopher, it declined to comment on the content of the discussion.

        But just days after the meeting, the NTC released a miffed statement – a copy of which was obtained by FRANCE 24 – declaring that it “strongly rejects what has been reported in some media as Mr. Bernard Levy’s comments on the future relationship between Libya and the Israelis.

        “The NTC is surprised by Mr. Levy’s comments,” the statement went on to add. “Mr Levy was received as a Special Envoy from the President of France, and relations with Israel was never discussed.” (sic)

        A self-styled “militant philosopher,” BHL has no official position in the French cabinet or government.

        Enter the ‘militant philosopher’ saving the Libyan people

        A swashbuckling public intellectual who has expounded on a host of international issues ranging from Afghanistan and Bosnia to Iraq and Pakistan, Levy played a well-documented role in making France the first country to recognise the NTC as the sole representative of the Libyan people in early March.

        It was Levy who put Libyan opposition representatives in touch with French President Nicolas Sarkozy following a trip to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi days after it fell from Muammar Gaddafi’s control.

        Levy has since repeatedly returned to rebel-held areas of Libya – including the battle-scarred city of Misrata – and has acquired quasi superstar status in Benghazi-based Libyan opposition circles.

        Given Levy’s role in helping secure the critical March 10 official French recognition, many NTC officials believe the French intellectual has a special relationship with the French president that allows him to bypass routine diplomatic protocols and command.

        “The NTC has long believed Levy is an official French envoy,” said Barak Barfi, a research fellow with the Washington DC-based New America Foundation in an emailed response to FRANCE 24 from Benghazi.

        “Even in its press release denying the existence of a message [to Israel], it called him ‘a special envoy from the president of France,’” noted Barfi. “Everyone here knows Levy. They think he is an important figure fuelling France’s stance on Libya.”

        The article continues but most of the rest is a “backgrounder” of sorts.

  9. RoHa says:

    Don’t insult me. I’m a philosopher. Bernard-Henri Levy is a French fraud.

  10. hughsansom says:

    There is one clear problem with Udi Aloni’s essay — Bernard-Henry Levy is not a philosopher. He is diametrically opposed to wisdom. He isn’t even a sophist. He’s a race-baiting, hate-filled propagandist.

  11. marc b. says:

    really, bhl is to philosophy as adam sandler is to comedy. they both rush about making, loud comedic/philosophic noises, forcing themselves on the public like a drunken frat boy on a co-ed. they are popular and important in the way that high fructose corn syrup is popular and important to the art of cuisine. nothing good can come of granting bhl a platform for his superficial, quasi-intellectualism. contrary to udaloni’s menu of bhl’s pardoxical braveries, bhl hasn’t shown a peppercorn of courage, pouncing on top of the pigpile of the day, whether it’s iran, syria, qaddafi , trying to get a punch in, figuratively speaking of course.

  12. CigarGod says:

    Oh, no!
    You mean I now have to examine myself about why I love Adam Sandler?!

  13. piotr says:

    I think that one can gouge the depth of BHL thinking from his report from war in Georgia
    link to huffingtonpost.com
    Perhaps one has to know some background, but BHL describes Georgian president as a comically pathetic figure, but somehow it seems that he is totally sympathetic. Missing background includes dealing of Saakashvili with the opposition and the media. One can intimidate opponents in various ways, after all, and our “democrat” followed every single trick of Putin.