Bernard-Henri Levy stuck his nose into the business of the Arab Spring from the outset. The French philosopher with Zionist leanings made an appearance in Tahrir Square, visited Benghazi to support the rebels, and organized a conference in support of the Syrian uprising in Paris. Al-Akhbar asked several Arab analysts and commentators for their opinions.
Lévy With Menachem Begin
Political science professor and established Libyan novelist Saleh Sennousi says that Levy “cares more about politics and the media than he does about philosophy.” According to Sennousi, “Levy is one of the biggest defenders of Israel because of his Holocaust complex. He also considers it the only “democratic state” in the Middle East and advocates founding a Palestinian state on Israel’s terms.”
Sennousi adds that Levy “supported the Arab revolutions because he’s infatuated with the media, fame, and his public image. He’s also a friend of President Nicholas Sarkozy, who for his part is trying to find a place for himself and France in the Arab revolutions.”
Sennousi speculates that Levy realized these revolutions would change the course of history. “He wanted to make his position known and establish friendships with the makers of these momentous events,” adding that Levy’s connections “could be useful for Israel as well.” But Sennousi tempered his criticism with a dose of reality: “These revolutions face bigger challenges than the friendship of Bernard-Henri Levy.”
Algerian author Salim Bofandasa largely agrees with Sennousi’s assessment. Bofandasa thinks that Levy’s interference and participation in the Libyan revolution are “a continuation of his experience in wars since Bosnia.” Rather than acting as a principled thinker, according to Bofandasa, Levy acts like a “bookseller” or a “media intellectual for whom it is very important that his name be mentioned along with current events.”
According to Bofandasa, Levy’s participation in the Libyan revolution in particular helped revive his image after his failed attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the Egyptian uprising. Bofandasa notes that Levy “went to Egypt and failed to draw attention to himself in Tahrir Square, because the Egyptian elite didn’t let him join in on the game.” Bofandasa insists that Levy cannot “be a champion of the revolutions or a true proponent of freedom, while at the same time supporting the Israeli military and the policies of the Israeli government.”
Libyan journalist Samir Saadawi has a different perspective on Levy. “I think the French president’s choice to send Levy as a delegate to communicate with the rebels in Libya can be attributed to Levy’s Algerian roots and familiarity with the region’s culture. Also possibly because of his experience as a war correspondent in Bangladesh in the early 1970s.”
Saadawi does not think that Levy’s Jewish ancestry is a determining factor. He says, “It’s true that Jews have marketed themselves in the West as understanding Arabs better than the rest, but the French government has others who can carry out their secret plots if need be. They don’t need to send a Jewish intellectual to do this kind of work.” Saadawi says that Libyan critics of Levy’s religion are remnants of the former regime trying to exploit ‘weaknesses’ in Levy’s persona to their own gain.
The Libyan legal activist and former political prisoner Omar Tawati is more suspicious of Levy’s role. He says: “France is loaded with diplomatic prowess and they calculate their steps well. Just look at Levy’s trips to Libya as an official French envoy, even though his position was never explicitly stated. Through my work as an investigative reporter, I’ve discovered international intelligence operatives working secretly on Libyan soil. It seems France is trying to build a place for itself in Libyans’ hearts before building itself a place on the ground there.”
Algerian novelist and publisher Bashir Mufti thinks that Levy has his own political agenda. Mufti says that Levy belongs to the Israeli lobby that openly and fiercely defends Israel’s interests in France and Europe, and his past positions testify to that. “Levy contradicts himself in his support for the rights of the Libyan people to freedom and democracy, while opposing the Palestinian struggle for the same ends. Therefore, we approach him with caution and skepticism, or if it’s necessary to deal with him, we should at least do it with intelligence and awareness.”
Libyan author Mahmoud Saberi goes even further in his condemnation of Levy. He thinks Levy is working to implement the doctrine of the “Greater Middle East” propagated by former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. It’s a “plan to provide Israel with a suitable climate to assert complete hegemony over the region.” Saberi adds, “Bernard-Henri Levy is carrying out a piece of this plan that he expects will put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”