By Adam Cailler
BERNARD-Henri Lévy has been called the most prominent intellectual in France.
He has also been called “France’s favourite punching bag”.
But he has had the ear of every French president since Francois Mitterrand, no matter their political affiliation.
Bernard-Henri was born into wealth and attended the best schools in Paris, attaining a degree in philosophy.
And he is not short of an opinion or two... or 12.
So who better to put on a new play about Britain leaving Europe called Last Exit before Brexit.
The 69-year-old’s one-man show, at Cadogan Hall, London on Monday, June 4 (8pm), sees the philosopher explain how his understanding of the European Union is linked by its past, starting in Auschwitz, and then in Sarajevo.
He will discuss the existential question of what it means to be European and demonstrate how the past is defining the future of Europe; how Brexit was announced by the lines of its own history; how Islamism in Europe finds its roots in Sarajevo, with Europe’s failure to save the situation of a moderate Islam; and how the global resurgence of antisemitism of some Euro-sceptics is a threat to us all.
And it was that last topic which Bernard-Henri did not hold back on.
“There is a big revival of antisemitism in the West,” he told me. “In every place it takes a different shape.
“In the UK, the face of antisemitism is part of the left. It has infiltrated, and is going strongly, inside the Labour Party.
“Alas, it is flourishing there in the most disgusting way.
“A few years ago there was only the odd statement like those from Ken Livingstone, who was a marginal character, now it is much more in the mainstream of Labour.
He added: “It is a real concern, and Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction has been far from satisfactory.
“His reaction was, in a way, worse than the things he reacted to.
“When asked about Holocaust denial, his reply is that everything is subject to debate — it is a shame and disgusting.”
Bernard-Henri believes the Labour leader does not understand what antisemitism is.
He explained: “He doesn’t realise that the new face of antisemitism is anti-Zionism.
“As long as he doesn’t understand that, he will not be able to fight against it. His apologies are all false.”
Although born in Béni Saf, French Algeria, to Andre and Dina (nee Siboni), Bernard-Henri grew up in Paris.
His father was the founder and manager of a successful timber company. He has two siblings — Philippe and Veronique.
It was in Paris that he first experienced antisemitism.
He recalled: “Three idiots in a Paris playground told me, ‘You don’t get to have Christmas presents because you’re a dirty Jew and Jews killed Jesus’.
“Maybe I cried a bit on the street later, but first I start hitting.”
Bernard-Henri — a former Maoist, whose father was also a decorated fighter in the Allied invasion of Italy — will be focusing a lot of his show on Brexit.
And, just in case there was any doubt about his position, he was “devastated and distressed” when Brexit became a reality.
He explained: “It’ll be a catastrophe economically and morally. Europe without the UK is inconceivable. The UK is the living heart of Europe.
“The DNA of the European union is British to an extent that most people don’t know. The DNA of EU is English. The spirit, brain and heart are English.”
But rather than dwelling on this, Bernard-Henri went on a journey to ask himself how he can help and contribute to the necessary explanation of what will happen, which, he feels, is lacking.
“So I wrote this monologue,” he explained. “Which is my contribution to the explanation and education of my strong feelings of the catastrophe.
“It got to this point for two reasons — the failure of Europe and the populism in England.
“It is difficult to be part of a dream of the EU, which is no longer a dream.
“It is difficult to embrace a cause that does not believe in itself.
“The Europeans leaders are disappointing and bureaucratic — it’s a ghost of itself.
“It is difficult to adore a dream which has turned into a nightmare.
“The rise of the tide of populism — xenophobia, racism, antisemitism, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn — have created a climate and atmosphere which is so opposite to the values of England, an open society and open world.
“Suddenly, in the last few years, there is a way to close the borders and the heart and to have all these xenophobic feelings come to the front.”
Bernard-Henri fears that not just the European Union, but Europe itself will collapse.
Britain, he added, is part of the three-headed creation behind it, with Germany and France the other two.
He explained: “Germany drives the economy, France is the political head and the UK is the spirit and idealogical framework.
“The euro will collapse and the political entity will fall into pieces.
“It is my bet that it won’t actually happen.
“I try to describe in the play some scenarios of the blockades of the process — the House of Lords being one of them.
“It is a reasonable possibility that Brexit won’t happen. It could turn out to be a positive situation in the end.”
His show also focuses a lot on Auschwitz, which Bernard-Henri describes as the “most burning moment” in European history where Europe was “at the edge of committing suicide”.
He added: “The show is a stream of consciousness of a French writer talking about Brexit.
“He’s been asked by a group of anti-Brexit Brits, who are making a show about Europe, to make a speech.
“During the stream, many things come and go, including the unique crime of Auschwitz.
“There have been in the, last century, many times where Europe was at the edge of committing suicide, but the most burning moment was Auschwitz.
“Europe was closed to degree zero of possibility after that — it was like a coup de gras moment.”
Bernard-Henri has been married three times.
His eldest daughter, from his first marriage to Isabelle Doutreluigne, Justine Lévy, is a best-selling novelist.
He has a son, Antonin-Balthazar Lévy, by his second wife, Sylvie Bouscasse.
He is now married to French actress and singer Arielle Dombasle.