French Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy Denounces ‘Delirium of Anti-Zionism’ Before UN General Assembly
The first ever meeting of the UN General Assembly devoted solely to the question of antisemitism was the occasion for a powerful keynote address from Bernard-Henri Levy, arguably France’s leading intellectual, in which he denounced the “delirium of anti-Zionism.”
In his speech to today’s meeting, convened by UNGA President Sam Kutesa after 37 countries signed onto an October 1 letter decrying the “alarming outbreak of antisemitism worldwide,” Levy lamented “the renewed advance of this radical inhumanity that is antisemitism.”
Levy argued that antisemitism could not be regarded as simply a variety of racism. “One cannot fight what one does not understand,” he declared, as he launched into a wide-ranging analysis of the character of antisemitism in the twenty-first century.
Levy pointed to a number of myths that confuse attempts to get to the heart of today’s problem, among them the idea that antisemitism would lessen or even disappear if the Palestinians were to achieve an independent state.
“Even if the Palestinians had a state, as is their right – even then, alas, this enigmatic and old hatred would not dissipate one iota,” Levy said.
There were, Levy continued, three key aspects to today’s antisemitism: the demonization of Israel as an illegitimate state, the denial of the Holocaust, and what he described as “the modern scourge of competitive victimhood,” whereby Jewish efforts to commemorate the Holocaust are scorned as an attempt to belittle the sufferings of other nations.
“The Jews are detestable because they are supposed to support an evil illegitimate state – this is the anti-Zionist delirium of the merciless adversaries of the reestablishment of the Jews in their historical fatherland,” Levy asserted.
When anti-Zionism is combined with Holocaust denial and the accusation that Holocaust commemoration “stifles and overshadows” commemoration of persecutions elsewhere, Levy said, “we can be pretty sure of facing an explosion in which all Jews everywhere will be designated targets.” He also forcefully emphasized his view that those who “understand the Holocaust” are far better equipped to grasp and respond to more recent genocides, such as those in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Today’s session was opened with a video message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who told delegates that a “UN that wants to be true to its founding aims and ideas has a duty to speak out against antisemitism.”
At the same time, the significant gaps in the UN’s own understanding of modern antisemitism was laid bare in a short passage in Ban’s remarks. “Grievances about Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews,” he said, before quickly adding, “criticism of Israeli actions should not be summarily dismissed as antisemitism.”
At the UN, however, what passes for criticism of Israel is frequently antisemitic in substance and tone, as Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the world body, pointed out in his remarks.
“Antisemitism can even be found in the halls of UN, disguised as humanitarian concern,” Prosor declared. “After the [summer 2014] conflict in Gaza, a handful of delegates stood at this podium and accused Israel of carrying out a Holocaust – this is not legitimate criticism of Israel.”
Indeed, Prosor’s argument was unintentionally underlined by a representative from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who told the gathering, “Occupation itself is an antisemitic act, because it threatens humankind and human rights…The persecution of the Palestinian people and the denial of their human rights – this is also an example of antisemitism.”
Samantha Power, the American Ambassador to the UN, said that the antisemitism was not confined to Europe, but was a “global problem.”
“We cannot forget that particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Holocaust denial is commonplace and accusations of blood libel appear in the official press,” Power stated.
Power ended her speech with a call to “everyone in this room to return to their capitals with the determination and energy this monstrous global problem demands.”