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December 13, 2015 2:27 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Bernard-Henri Lévy Says Jews, Catholics Must Cooperate to Confront ‘Looming Barbarism’ (INTERVIEW)

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Bernard-Henri Lévy and Pope Francis I.

Bernard-Henri Lévy and Pope Francis I.

Following a meeting with Pope Francis I, and ahead of his upcoming trip to New York to speak at a United Nations event dedicated to Catholic-Jewish relations, famed French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy spoke with The Algemeiner, in an exclusive interview, about the Church’s relationship with Jews. 

The Algemeiner: You will be at United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday for an ecumenical meeting of Christians and Jews, is that right?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: “Ecumenical” is not the right word. The event is a celebration — open to the public, including your readers — of the 50th anniversary of the remarkable revolution within the Catholic Church that brought about the decision to move beyond antisemitism. And it was indeed a revolution — one of the few successful revolutions of the 20th century. At the end of it, the church banned antisemitism. That is a far cry from the fancy phrases and hollow dialogue that often fall under the heading of ecumenism.

The Algemeiner: Do you believe that a “decision” can cure antisemitism?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: You have hit on an advantage of the Roman Catholic Church vis-à-vis Protestantism and, at the moment, Islam: its hierarchy. The Church is headed by a pope; bulls and encyclicals have the force of law. Once a law is promulgated, of course, it can take time for hearts to follow. But that is, in effect, what has happened. And that is what we will celebrate Wednesday at the United Nations. The overwhelming majority of Catholics are no longer the enemies of the Jews. The toxic theme of the “deicidal people”  has pretty much disappeared, if not from all hearts and minds, then at least from Church writings. Antisemitism has reorganized around other ideas, particularly anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel, but these have nothing to do with Catholicism. In fact, in the battle that the Jews are fighting against the new antisemitism, the Catholics are most often on their side; they are their allies.

The Algemeiner: Who conceived the idea of the meeting at the United Nations?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: The Vatican, in part. But also the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), which I think is accurately described as a coalition of the major Jewish groups in the United States. The architect of the event is Michael Landau, a leader in the American Jewish community. One thing of which I am completely certain is that the two sides have an equally strong interest in seeing the alliance prosper, something that is really critical in the terrifying world we now live in. Together Jews and Catholics will have to confront the looming barbarism. And not just us, of course; we are going to need millions of practitioners of other religions, too, as well as nonbelievers. Joining me at the UN on Wednesday afternoon to take stock of the past half-century and look forward to the next will be Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, as well as prominent Jewish leaders, among them Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

The Algemeiner: Was it in connection with this event that you met with Pope Francis on December 9th?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: Yes, but I was not alone. Accompanying me were Michael Landau and Chief Rabbi David Rosen, head of the American Jewish Committee’s department of interreligious affairs. It was an interesting experience. Three Jews chatting with the leader of the Catholic Church and then touring the Vatican’s chapels and its diverse and varied corridors of power. Landau and Rosen are what we usually call Orthodox Jews; I am a “Jew by affirmation.” In fact, I recently finished a tribute to Jewish thought entitled Le Génie du Judaïsme (The Spirit of Judaism) that will come out this winter in France and later here. Neither Rosen, Landau, nor I had the feeling, while walking through the Vatican, of finding ourselves on “foreign ground.”

The Algemeiner: What did you and the Pope talk about?

Bernard-Henri Lévy shows images of the four monks to Pope Francis.

Bernard-Henri Lévy shows images of the four monks to Pope Francis.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: It was a very short meeting that occurred in the context of his general weekly audience. But I had the chance to ask him about a striking interview that he gave a few months ago to a Catalan daily in which he said that “inside every Christian is a Jew,” and that although he performs the Eucharist every day as a Christian, it is “as a Jew” that he prays over the Psalms of David. I also tried to draw his attention to a monastery in Iraq that I visited recently, a monastery that four heroic monks have refused to abandon as long as even one Christian remains on the Plain of Nineveh, and despite the fact that the monastery is practically within shooting distance of ISIS. L’Osservatore Romano put photos of the meeting online. In one of them you can clearly see the pictures of the four monks that I had brought along to give him. The actual working meeting was held afterwards with Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state and second in command, as it were.

The Algemeiner: What was the purpose of that meeting?

Bernard-Henri Lévy: To prepare for the ceremony at the United Nations on December 16. And to think about follow-up — that is, what we need to do to ensure that the symposium is not just another meeting with no tomorrow. But also to think of ways to save those four monks I just mentioned, along with their monastery, which is one of the oldest and most venerable in the world. It would be premature to say anything more about that here, but perhaps I will be able to by the end of next week, when I will be giving a public talk at the 92nd Street Y. If things have fallen into place by then, I will go into greater detail. In any event, I want to take this opportunity to invite your readers to this second event as well. I will be speaking twice in New York next week, first at the UN and the next day at the 92nd Street Y. What can I tell you? Between the killings in Paris, the daily terrorist crimes in Israel, the Trump phenomenon and all the rest, there is a lot to say! And I am going to try to say it. So, please, come!

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  • marta mikey frid

    Why wouldn’t BHL ask from Pope Francis to be consistent with his theological pronouncements and demand for the New Testament’s paragraphs denouncing the Jewish People as the perpetrators of deicide to be deleted? These statements are still recited at many of the Church’s Sunday Masses. And, for BHL to proclaim that modern anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Anti-Zionism reveals the extent of his ignorance of the historical socioeconomic roots of Jew Hatred targeted now against the State of Israel.

    • St. Longinus

      Here is a review of Goldhagen’s book on Amazon:

      On p. 100 Mr. Goldhagen writes, “The Jewish religion, as epitomized by the demonized text the Talmud and its alleged teachings…”

      That’s virtually all he has to say in this tome concerning Orthdodox Judaism’s holiest book and the fount of its halacha. Goldhagen is so sloppy he doesn’t even distinguish between the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi (the former is authoritative, the latter is not). Nor does he dare to expound on the “alleged teachings” of the “Talmud” that have caused it to be “demonized.”

      This claim presents a logical challenge: how does one demonize a book that itself demonizes the New Testament, Jesus Christ, His Mother Mary and goyim in general? Can one accurately say that Goldhagen has “demonized” “Mein Kampf”? How does one go about demonizing the Talmud Bavli, a book of pornographic lies, group defamation and advocacy of theft, murder and deceit?

      The Babylonian (“Bavli”) Talmud is the source of much of the informed protest against Orthodox rabbinic dogma, from eminent authorities such as Dr. Alexander McCaul of King’s College London. Goldhagen prefers to discuss at length the cartoonish “Protocols of Zion,” whose provenance is highly questionable, rather than explain to his readers how the documented bigotry, racism and self-worship in the Talmud Bavli came to be enshrined as the outgrowth of Pharisaic (i.e. Mishnaic) post-Temple Judaism and its derivative texts: Mishneh Torah, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah, etc.

      On p. 29 Goldhagen makes risible comparisons between the lurid, probably faked “Protocols” and the well-researched writing of two eminent critics of Israeli colonialism, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, terming their book on the Israeli lobby “an update on the notorious antisemitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Outlandish, purple prose like the preceding has been a halmark of fanatical partisans of the dispossession and extrusion of the Palestinians for decades, among whom we number Mr. Goldhagen. “The Devil that Never Dies” is so embarrassing that even a charter member of the Zionist thought police, Anthony Julius, has termed it, “truly ludicrous.” Julius documents Goldhagen’s intellectual dishonesty in the Sept. 13, 2013 edition of the Wall Street Journal, p. A13.

      Mr. Goldhagen is unconscious of the fact that the devil that never dies is actually the self regard and egoism of human beings organized within creeds of extreme nationalist chauvinism, whether they be Nazism, Salafist Islam or Talmudic Judaism.

  • Brad

    Hate to be the nay-sayer, but Catholic charities in recent years have funded Israel-hostile and pro-BDS NGOs to the tune of $8.2 million:

    As for BHL’s statement “the toxic theme of the ‘deicidal people’ has pretty much disappeared…from Church writings.”
    …Unless you include The New Testament, which by some counts has 450 anti-Semitic verses:

    But perhaps BHL can ask the Pope to kindly rewrite some of these divine verses, to be in line with the new “ban” on anti-Semitism:

    Here is a more adult look at what the Pope is/isn’t doing about anti-Semitism than what BHL grasps:

  • jakob wasi

    BHL should talk. The aging ‘hippie’ has no purchase on peace. He’s a purveyor of instability and chaos. Let’s not forget the mess in Libya lies at his welcome mat. He got his Khanuah gelt by pushing for the overthrow of Qaddfi. And on his shoulders weighs the responsibility for spreading Islamic extremism in North and West Africa.
    BHL should learn to keep his big mouth shut!

  • Benjamin Weiss

    Powerful. This is a beautiful happening. Like the lights of Channukah, the holiday of Christmas, the warmth of this ‘Happening’ is a beacon of love, and hope at a time of so much senseless hatred,violence and death. It moves me to joy, love toward my fellow human beings, and much hope for our society and though a long way from the healing the world, it is a giant step in that direction.

  • steven L

    BHL carries his illusions wherever he goes. But he shouldn’t give up. By the way Libya was a big mistake (no IF).