Charlie Rose, Friend of France


By Masha Leon

Published October 02, 2008, issue of October 10, 2008.
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“The man to my right writes about ‘the Left’… his history is a stand for freedom, liberty,” said TV journalist Charlie Rose of Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom he interviewed at the September 15 luncheon hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française in its Le Skyroom. Rose, who was introduced as Lévy’s “American brother” and an “exceptional friend of France,” visibly relished the exchange with author-philosopher Lévy, whose latest tome, “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism” (Random House), teeters between admiration and outrage at “the Left,” which Levy called “my family” but to which he admitted one can be “infidèle,” unfaithful. “The barbarous Left is a front for a huge crime,” Lévy said, alluding to the “Soviet Union bloodbath. It does not take care of victims but [only] asks, ‘who is the murderer?…’The old Left has warmed again [to] the ghosts of communism, Stalinism… has built… a new anti-Americanism pillar [and] a new mutated antisemitism. For me the French political left is now decomposing.”

When Rose addressed the issue of the anti-Muslim “Danish cartoons,” Lévy let loose at “the… act of cowardice” on the part of the press in America, “which never reproduced the cartoon. We accept cartoons against Islam, would you accept the symmetry of cartoons against Jews? Would you accept critiques of Jews?”

Disappointed in, and critical of, French President Nicolas Sarkozy on a number of issues, Lévy explained, “I expected some good things… some reforms, that he would be president of human rights, that each woman would find a home in France… I am not a politician, I am a philosopher… When [Ayaan] Hirsan Ali, the female Salman Rushdie [the Somali-born member of the Dutch Parliament] sought refuge in the Netherlands, she had to flee [for her life] to find shelter in the United States.”

As Rose pursued the issue of the “new” antisemitism in France, Levy’s answers veered toward general injustices and the betrayal of the left. Apropos modern antisemitism in France, I remembered art historian Eunice Lipton’s view in her 2006 book “French Seduction: An American’s Encounter With France, Her Father, and the Holocaust” (Carroll & Graf Publishers): “For centuries, Jewish noses were too large, foreheads too low, lips too full. A priest during World War II asked one of his parishioners, ‘My friend, do you know that God created man in his image, and do you know what that meant?’ ‘I do understand [the parishioner answered], I have seen the Marshal.’ He was referring to [French army commander Philippe] Petain’s blue eyes and the snowy white moustache, physical characteristics the governmentally controlled press repeated endlessly. In time, prejudice against a certain kind of Jewish face faded. Now the facial type of the Jews they killed, the Ashkenazi Jews, is seen as European, while it is the Sephardic Jews and Algerians who are unattractive.”

Lévy’s stunning wife, actress Arielle Dombasle, and FIAF’s president, Monique-Marie Steckel, were among the mostly French-fluent crowd at Le Skyroom. Following the debate-cum-elegant lunch, I asked Rose if his unbuttoned white shirt was “an homage” to Bernard-Henri Lévy, who is always seen wearing a chemise empesee — a white shirt open to the sternum. Somewhat taken aback, Rose adamantly retorted: “I always dress casually. I only wear suits and ties on the air.”


“The biggest killers of children in Israel are not terrorist bombings or violence,” said keynote speaker Jonathan Alter, senior editor of Newsweek magazine, at the September 14 Israel Children’s Cancer Foundation dinner. “It is cancer.” Alter, himself a cancer survivor, was alluding to a little-known statistic. “Each year, 500 children — one in 330 — in Israel are diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20. Currently 1,500 are under treatment, and the good news is that there is an 80% cure rate,” he said. The ICCF is the brainchild of its president, Harold Blond, who founded the organization in 1998, after his oldest child and only son, Neil, died at 42 of a malignant brain tumor that had been diagnosed 18 months earlier. Blond had been a fundraiser for the Israel Cancer Research Fund and became concerned about the inadequate delivery of quality cancer care to children in Israel.

Alter described how, in 2004, “at Starbucks at Penn Station,” he got the news that the CT scan he thought would show an ulcer identified a malignant cancer in his abdomen. “I was 46 years old. It meant a year’s worth of treatment. When you enter that world, your rock star is your oncologist.” He discussed the progression of treatment, his chemotherapy and his bone marrow transplant. “It’s no picnic. What is worse than having cancer as an adult is having cancer as a child. [You need to] understand the nature of the course of treatment, the nurses who attend to you and the researchers who are pivotal to your treatment.” Alter described the process as “a dark night of the soul,” and noted that “people who tell you ‘You are so courageous’… don’t see you at 3 a.m.” Each day, Alter said, he tried to have a “funny fix” of Jon Stewart, a bit of religion and meditation. He told the well-attended and well-fed crowd at the New York Marriott Marquis: “I’m happy to report that I am in remission after four-and-a-half years. The latest Sloan-Kettering Cat scan was clean.”

The evening’s honorees were Dr. Michael Harris and his wife, Frieda; Rabbi Yisrael Chait and his wife, Freyda; David Lerer , chief financial officer of the Jack Parker Organization, and his wife, Sandra, and Forward readers Phyllis and Irving Tobin. The ICCF, whose honorary president is Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, boasts a stellar medical advisory board of Israeli and American oncologists, several of whom were among the guests. The ICCF serves the entire State of Israel, including the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Dana Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Schneier Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikvah and Soroka University Medical Center at Beersheba.

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