Editor’s note: Bernard-Henri Lévy — French philosopher, filmmaker, and activist; defender of Israel and of Jewish values — returns to New York on January 11 for a conversation with Charlie Rose at the 92nd Street Y. On the same day, Random House will publish The Genius of Judaism, an English translation of Lévy’s best-seller, L’Esprit du judaïsme. The following brief interview provides a sample of what you’ll hear:
Why did you choose the Y for the launch of your book?
Because there is in New York no finer locus of Jewish thought and culture than the Y. Known all over the world, it is a model for the great European community centers. I am not aware of many other places where “knowledge” and “study” are found together in such perfect balance. For a book like TheGenius of Judaism, which advocates for an affirmative Judaism, there could not be a better place for the launch.
What do you mean by affirmative Judaism?
A glorious Judaism that is proud of itself and its values. A strong Judaism. But hold on! I don’t mean naked strength or brute force. I mean the force of intelligence, the strength that comes from reflection and commentary. The strength that Jews derive from familiarity with their sacred texts, notably the Talmud.
You are aware, of course, that your presentation will occur just a few days before the United States inaugurates a new president?
Of course. And, with all of the humility required by my status as a foreigner accepting the hospitality of an institution of high American culture, I will express how I view this event. I will discuss Mr. Trump with respect to Jews, Judaism, and what I know of his, at least very strange, relationship with Israel. Once again, I will do so with courtesy and care, and in a way that reflects my unconditional love for America and its credo. But I will not dodge the issues or dance around the tough questions.
Are you among those Europeans who are condemning the president-elect in advance?
“In advance” is not my style. I believe that the most decent stance, for someone who believes in democracy, is the one taken by Barack Obama, by Hillary Clinton, and, indeed, by The Algemeiner — namely, that the people have spoken, that Trump has been elected and that we all have to wish the United States and its administration the best of luck. That said, I have my own ideas about what is occurring in the US heartland and my own ideas about what today’s American Jews should be alert to. I believe that this election is — in addition to everything else—a major event for the Jews. And I will explain why.
Can you share a bit more about that?
I would prefer to wait until January 11, if you don’t mind. Especially since the book, which addresses this point squarely, is embargoed until then. I can tell you one thing, however. American Jews are rightly horrified by the rise of antisemitism in Europe generally and in France in particular. One of the themes of the book is that the United States is not just a spectator here. Unfortunately, there exists an American antisemitism whose genealogy and triggers I explore in the book. And that American antisemitism is undergoing a resurgence.
Can you cite some examples?
Here again, let’s wait until January 11. But one example is all the antisemitic voices (KKK, white supremacist and so on) that the Trump event liberated and emboldened. And another one is, of course, the BDS movement, which stands for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. I will retrace the movement’s history. I will demonstrate that its deepest roots lie in the soil of European Nazism. And I will explain how and why this manner of being anti-Semitic without appearing to be and without suffering from a guilty conscience is just getting started in this country, to my great dismay. Please forgive my bluntness. But when you see the enemy coming, when you know his true face, you have to find ways to fight him. And that’s what we’ll talk about, this night, at the Y. Be there.