Danny the Red!: German Jewish Politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit Still in the Spotlight

An indelible memory of France’s 1968 social upheaval is the diminutive red-haired German Jew, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, nicknamed “Danny the Red,” popping up gleefully at student protests and shouting to the crowds .

A sympathetic new biography by tabloid journalist Emeline Cazi, “The Real Cohn-Bendit” (“Le vrai Cohn-Bendit”) from Editions Plon, explains that Cohn-Bendit was born to parents who fled the Nazis to Paris in the 1930s, where they hobnobbed with other exiles such as filmmaker Max Ophüls , Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt. In 1963, Cohn-Bendit’s observant mother sent him to Kibbutz HaZore’a in Israel for a few weeks, where the experience of collective labor pleased the anarchistic young lefty.

In America, most 1960s radicals are long gone from the political scene, but Cohn-Bendit is still omnipresent in European media, making pronouncements in German , French , Italian , and even a little English . No less than three books by Cohn-Bendit appeared last year: “What To Do?” ; “Forget 68” ; and “For the Planet.”

At 65, Cohn-Bendit advances ecological concerns as a member of the European Parliament and co-Chair of the Greens/European Free Alliance party, and he also appears regularly at commemorations of the 1968 student uprisings, notably in Warsaw in 2008, alongside his friend, Polish Jewish journalist Adam Michnik .

Long delighting in the public eye, Cohn-Bendit’s candidacy for President of the European Parliament, as floated in “The Real Cohn-Bendit,” has lately crashed due to past statements and writings which have been seen by some as admissions of pedophilia , dating back to the 1970s. The mere presence of such allegations, whether true or not, should capsize any higher electoral ambitions. Still, in the April 1 cover story of le Nouvel Observateur, when asked “Who Can Beat Sarkozy?” two French politicians responded, “Daniel Cohn-Bendit.”

Cohn-Bendit’s passion for crude verbal manipulation of historical metaphor should continue to win him headlines; in 1968, he opposed the construction of a new French sports center, claiming that sports centers were “one of Hitler’s methods for distracting young people away from real problems.” Similarly, a chapter in “The Real Cohn-Bendit” is headed with the muddled maxim: “Presidential elections are the AIDS of politics.”

Watch Cohn-Bendit mixing it up with a Swiss politician on TV last year after Switzerland, in a referendum, banned the construction of new minarets attached to mosques:

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