"If a time should come when dialogue between Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews becomes illegal, if it is blocked by the obstacles of censorship, this will be a retreat from the democratic ideal," said French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy Sunday evening at the opening of the "Democracy and its Challenges" conference in Tel Aviv.
Levy's address opened the conference, organized by the French Embassy in cooperation with Haaretz. In his speech, Levy addressed the recently formed left-wing European Jewish movement, J Call, and the response he elicited by joining the organization's call on the U.S. and the European Union to push Israel to take measures toward peace.
Levy also touched on the Israel Defense Forces, saying the "I have never seen such a democratic army, which asks itself so many moral questions. There is something unusually vital about Israeli democracy."
At the conclusion of Levy's address, which garnered enthusiastic applause, a participant in the event yelled out that his support of J Call's petition "endorses Israel's enemies."
"I demand a response," the participant called out. Levy sat on the stage and said "I am no more or less of a Jew than you. I don't want the U.S. administration to wait until the current president's last month in office to really enter the race. The two peoples [Israel and the Palestinians] need to divorce, and sometimes someone has to mediate."
In regard to criticism over his support of J Call, Levy also said that as someone who was in Israel during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, "I would like people to think twice before imagining that I would be capable of signing a text that is unfriendly to Israel. The Jewish people invented democracy. It is absurd to prevent the democratic ideal from being expressed in discussions on current events – it is pathetic."
At the start of the address, Levy lauded Israeli democracy, saying that "Israel represents an island which is actually a miracle of freedom, democracy and rejection of fascist ignorance."
"Zionism is the only ism of the 20th century that didn't fail and become a caricature, of all the great movements," he said. "The people who built Israel, who came from the darkness of Nazism, Communism and totalitarian Arab nations, invented a working democracy within a matter of days," he added.