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