portrait of an enlightened defender of Zionism

Michaël Bar-Zvi,


After the dark introductory monologue of the director, the blue and penetrating gaze of a sexagenarian captures the attention. Alone in front of the camera, Michaël Bar-Zvi presents himself as “philosopher and writer”modestly, like a Mensch – in Yiddish, someone attentive and honest. We are then in the middle of filming The wealth (broadcast in 2019), documentary by Elisabeth Lenchener devoted to the delicate relationship between man and money.

Read also: “Wealth” or the money in question around the world

The death of Michaël Bar-Zvi on May 29, 2018, at the age of 68, will convince the director to tackle a more divisive subject than money – Zionism –, by devoting a portrait to his friend from thirty years. It is broadcast on the anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, in order to “to make Zionism more accessible, to break down prejudices and to elevate the debate”confided Elisabeth Lenchener to the WorldMonday, May 9.

The ambitious goal requires intellectual effort, including on the part of the viewer. This one should lend itself to it willingly, worn by Michaël Bar-Zvi, “a complex, interesting, fascinating character and a great intellectual”according to Daniel Shek, Israel’s ambassador to France from 2006 to 2010.

fighting spirit

The refusal of simplification and combativeness appear in each of his interventions. Since the evocation of his aliyah (return to Israel for a Jew), at age 25, “in a completely different spirit than what we hear today [mais] to bring my love of France to Israel”until its development, in front of the journalist Michael Grynszpan in 2016, on his double intellectual filiation: with Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) and the “more sulphurous” Pierre Boutang (1916-1998). The professor thus recalls that the latter was his philosophy teacher at Lycée Turgot in 1967 and that the teacher was no longer then. “anti-Semitic but philo-Semitic, Zionist and very committed to Israel”.

Later, he defends his In praise of war after the Holocaust ( Hermann, 2010) with the same pedagogy against Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, March 26, 2010. On the set of i24 again, he mastered his criticisms after the broadcast on M6 of an issue of “Exclusive investigation” on Jerusalem , December 18, 2016.

The confrontation of ideas is a driving force. “Michael [Michaël Bar-Zvi] had something eminently chivalrous, crossing words and concepts as one crosses swords”recalls Arthur Cohen, Hermann editions.

Another engine, the family. His father, a musician, who believed that the Holocaust did not belong to “memory” but to Evil. Anat Bar-Zvi, his widow and mother of his three children, delivers a sweet testimony of their life together. “I think this marriage will bring peace”he says on an amateur video on their wedding day.

Since the 2000s, Michaël Bar-Zvi had been pointing out new dangers, such as anti-Zionism, “permission to be democratically anti-Semitic”said Vladimir Jankélévitch, and “the Islamo-leftist Palestinian discourse”an ideology “dominant in universities and in intellectual circles in France”.

“Yes, I will defend the sand of Israel, / The land of Israel, the children of Israel; / Even if it means dying for the sand of Israel, / The land of Israel, the children of Israel”sings Serge Gainsbourg, in The Sand and the Soldier, written in 1967, which opens this portrait. And little broadcast since.

Michaël Bar-Zvi, the friend, the Mensch, documentary by Elisabeth Lenchener (Fr., 2022, 52 min). Available in replay on All the story.


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