Blog post

To Bernard-Henri Lévy: What about the Palestinians?

Clara Heyworth17 March 2011

In an open letter published today in Le Monde diplomatique, Marcello Svirksy critiques Bernard-Henri Lévy's recent and much vaunted support of the Libyan revolution, asking the question: And what of the Palestinian struggle? Surely Palestinians deserve no less than other Arabs? 

[A]s we witness the West rushing to support revolutionary struggles throughout the Arab world, it is hard not to wonder why the Palestinian struggle has not enjoyed the same political fortune. And this is exactly what I find lamentable, and the reason for this letter.

Everyone nowadays starts from the assumption that the Gaddafi regime was unbearable for larger parts of the Libyan citizenry, and that therefore the present revolt should be encouraged for their benefit. Gaddafi's repression of and war on his own citizens is unquestionably repugnant and compels the international community to consider how to assist the rebels. Hence your support for the Libyan transitionary government engaged in a legitimate struggle to end a regime of oppression.

But we should be under no illusions: for governments, cosying up to those who may become the future rulers of Libya would facilitate the exploitation of the country's vast resources in the future. By contrast, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and the stabilisation of the region that would bring along, is far less attractive to Europe and the West's interests.

But let us stick with the assumption that all that counts is a sincere preoccupation with the fate of the Libyan people as they fight to overcome decades of oppression. This assumption reflects an admirable spirit which may be tested in other cases as well—and here it is only right to consider your own opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. A couple of years ago, in a debate at the New York Public Library on16 September 2008, you insisted on the extraordinary democratic character of the State of Israel by emphasising its tolerance towards Arab political parties and others who aim at democratising Zionist structures. I struggle to find the words to describe your ignorance here, in particular with regard to how ethnic segregation and discrimination against Israel's Palestinian citizens within the Green Line structures an imperative to fight the system. More recently, right after the deadly events of the Flotilla to Gaza in May 2010, when you expressed your criticisms of the IDF at a public meeting in Tel Aviv, you stressed your surprise at their actions and your belief in the morality and the sense of democracy of the Israeli Army (see the English edition of Haaretz, 30 May 2010). These are just two reminders of your well-known public support for Zionism and for Israel, which must be now measured alongside your present support for the revolutionary wave shaking the Arab world.

What is it in your liberal heart that blinds you to the effects on Palestinian life caused by the tragic ethnic cleansing of 1948, by six decades of discrimination within the Green Line, and four decades of Zionist military oppression in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem? As the world rightly distinguishes between oppressors and oppressed in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, why not apply, with the particularities of the case taken into account, the same treatment to Palestine? Europe's enthusiasm for the Arab uprising, like your own, irritates because of the double standard which is all the more striking in its spatial aspect: by refusing to support the Palestinian struggle in the same terms in which you support the Arab uprising across the whole region, Israel is singled out as a site exempt from critique. Inevitably, this problematic moral code caricaturises your political attitude towards the region and, sadly, helps Israel to continue its various ways of oppression, not only against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories but also against those of its citizens who aspire to transform the regime.

I agree with your demand to support the Libyan people in their struggle to redefine their citizenship. But let me conclude by saying that it is indeed in the same manner that I understand my own Israeli citizenship: as giving me not a mandate to perpetuate present modes of oppression but the right to redefine the whole spectrum of rights by way of struggle. It is in this light that I expect you and the world to support the struggle to transform the Israeli regime.

Visit Le Monde diplomatique to read the letter in situ. In November this year, Verso will open its new Counterblasts series with three books, including one on Bernard-Henri Lévy entitled, The Imposter: BHL in Wonderland.

After having read the open letter above, you might like to revisit (with a healthy dose of cynicism) BHL's recent appearance on Al Jazeera English's Riz Khan Show, noting of course the viewer comments, among which is this one: "BHL is nothing but a poser. He is more interested in his own image than anything else."